Two years after losing at Joe Louis Arena as the No. 1 seed on a last-second layup to the Youngstown State University Penguins, Oakland faced them again in the quarterfinals of the Horizon League tournament. This time the game was held in the O’Rena, and with a different venue came a different outcome.
The Golden Grizzlies avenged the loss in 2017 and Jan. 31, 2019’s loss with a 88-84 win.
“They (Youngstown) have been a bugaboo for us,” Head Coach Greg Kampe said. “For some reason, you play certain teams well. We’ve had some unbelievable one point, last-second shot games with them. I’m glad we got a chance to play Youngstown after what they did two years ago to us.”
The Penguins point guard Darius Quisenberry was named to the All-League Freshman Team and All-League Second Team on Monday, and Oakland guarded Quisenberry with their All-Freshman Team point guard, Braden Norris.
The eight-point favorite Golden Grizzlies started off the game on a 9-0 run, Youngstown State started 0-4 from the floor and had three turnovers. The Penguins were able to break a five-minute scoring drought with a Devin Morgan 3-pointer. Because of this drought, Youngstown State began using a full-court press to try to get back into the game, which led to eight fouls in the first 10 minutes.
The press worked for the Penguins, forcing turnovers and getting easy baskets which sparked an 8-0 run to tie the game up at 20 points with 8:30 remaining. After an early Oakland lead, the Youngstown State defensive intensity reduced the gap and eventually took a two point lead, 24-22.
“They put that press on us but we have a press breaker,” Brad Brechting said. “We kept our heads down and stayed focused, the guys played well tonight.”
Fouls became crucial in the first half, as Oakland attempted 17 free throws, while Youngstown State attempted none. After a missed 3-pointer from Youngstown State, the first half ended 34-30.
Brechting was making an impact early on, recording 10 rebounds in the first half to go along with five points. Brechting was able to get good positioning on the offensive glass, grabbing three offensive rebounds in the half. Tray Maddox and Jaevin Cumberland led the team in scoring with eight points each.
Cumberland came out of halftime on fire, scoring nine points in the first three and a half minutes, including two 3-pointers. He finished as the team’s leading scorer with 23 points.
The second half continued to be close, with both teams putting up points at will inside and outside the paint. Once again, fouls played a key part in the second half. Oakland was in the bonus halfway through the second half, which resulted in numerous free throw attempts for the Golden Grizzlies. The increased free throw attempts combined with solid defense gradually extended the Oakland lead.
The game plan down the stretch was to get the ball to Xavier Hill-Mais and Brechting, exploiting the size advantage inside. Hill-Mais was able to consistently get to the basket and finish with hook shots and layups down the stretch. He was also active on the offensive glass, extending possessions with four offensive rebounds.
“If I need to be the guy at the basket that’s throwing those hooks in and throwing those layups in, then I’ll be that guy,” Hill-Mais said.
The Golden Grizzlies advanced to the semifinals with the win, and will face the No. 2 Northern Kentucky Norse and Horizon League Player of the Year Drew McDonald, who Oakland went 1-1 against this season.
“With a win like this, it shows we’re ready to play… and we’re ready for March Madness,” Hill-Mais said.