Men’s basketball wins overtime thriller in the O’rena

Men’s basketball pulled through with an overtime win over the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (8-15, 4-6 HL) on Sunday, Jan. 29, on the Blacktop at the O’rena. The 79-70 win moves the Golden Grizzlies to 6-4 in Horizon League play and 16-7 on the season.

The Golden Grizzlies had the lead for 33:08 of the 45-minute game, but never separated far enough to keep the Panthers out of the fight. Milwaukee battled through the entire game, and the Panthers were able to tie the score at 62 with 1:18 remaining in regulation and then again at 64 with just 33 seconds to go.

On its next possession, Oakland’s Martez Walker committed what, at the time, appeared to be a costly foul on one of Milwaukee’s best shooters, Cody Wichmann. The shooting foul was called behind the 3-point line, sending Wichmann to the line to shoot three free throws with just under 30 seconds to play.

Wichmann, a .778 percent free-throw shooter, missed all three, keeping the Golden Grizzlies alive and sending the game into overtime.

“We caught a heck of break,” head coach Greg Kampe said after the game. “He’s a very good player who’s having a tremendous senior year . . . I felt bad for him because after so many years in the business, you feel bad for kids.”

In the five minutes of overtime, the Golden Grizzlies returned to the team that started the conference season. Martez Walker had a clutch second-attempt 3-pointer, Sherron Dorsey-Walker added one of his own, and the Golden Grizzlies made all 10 of their free throws.

“In the overtime, we were the team we were earlier in the year,” Kampe said. “That was the first time since we walked off the floor at Valparaiso that for any length of time . . . we looked like a good basketball team. That five minutes was outstanding.”

Oakland was able to separate for their biggest lead of the game in overtime, emerging victorious at 79-70.

“This game was just about getting our swagger back,” freshman Brailen Neely said after the game. “As everybody knows, we’ve been struggling, dropping games we shouldn’t. So it’s a big confidence booster to come in and get a win like this.”

Neely, averaging 14 minutes a game, saw 43 in Sunday’s matchup. After Friday’s loss to the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Phoenixes, Kampe noted this as an adjustment he planned on making to his team’s offense.

Kampe said it was time to leave Neely in to play through his mistakes instead of forcing his other players to run the point in Stevie Clark’s absence. Neely contributed 10 points for the Golden Grizzlies, his first game in double digits. Neely went 8-for-8 from the free-throw line with 6 of those 8 coming in overtime.

“I told myself, ‘I’m playing him’,” Kampe said. “I’m going to let him play through all of his mistakes. If we’re going to be good in March, I’ve got to do that. And he made me so mad in the first half.”

Kampe touched on Neely’s wild passes and two turnovers as points of frustration and times where, in the past, he would have pulled him. However, as promised, he left him in.

“He said he was just going to let me play,” Neely said of Kampe. “That gave me more confidence to believe in myself that I can run the offense and do a great job.”

Kampe commended Neely’s efforts late in the game.

“I thought in the last five minutes of regulation and the overtime, Brailen Neely just grew up,” Kampe said. “And now I feel a lot better about our future just based on that performance.”

Jalen Hayes had another solid performance for Oakland, contributing a team-high 22 points and 11 rebounds. Through the Golden Grizzlies’ five-game struggle, Hayes has contributed double-digit points in all but one matchup, scoring 39 in the loss against Detroit Mercy, 25 in the loss to Cleveland State and 23 in the loss to Green Bay.

All this is in spite of the added defensive efforts of their opponents, who have scouted his success combined with Oakland’s struggles to shoot from outside and adjusted accordingly.

It looked as though the Golden Grizzlies were overcoming their struggles from the 3-point line as Nick Daniels went 3-for-4 in the first half and Walker added two of his own. The dry spell resumed, however, as the game went on, and Oakland finished shooting 27 percent from the 3-point line.

Oakland looks to carry this momentum into this week’s road trip. The Golden Grizzlies head to Ohio to take on Youngstown State and Cleveland State. The matchup against Youngstown State will take place at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 2.