The last time Head Coach Greg Kampe and the Oakland University Golden Grizzlies faced Cleveland State University in the Horizon League tournament, the Vikings won in a low scoring game at Little Caesars Arena, 44-43.
Two years later in the O’rena, the teams faced off again in the postseason, and Oakland won 80-59.
“I’m unbelievably pleased,” Kampe said. “To take a 15-point lead to 25 shows the maturity and focus of this group. We played really well. Our defense in the first half was as good as we could play.”
The No. 7 Vikings came into the game with the co-Coach of the Year in the Horizon Dennis Gates and All-Horizon League third team forward Algevon Eichelberger. The two teams finished within one game of each other, Oakland won both match-ups in the regular season.
This was the last home game for senior Xavier Hill-Mais, who was without his usual senior teammate Brad Brechting. Brechting was a last-minute scratch with a lower back injury.
“Brad and I have played together for five years, before the game he just said, ‘X, be yourself,'” Hill-Mais said. “I knew how much this game means to him, Kampe, the Grizz Gang and the fans and my mom at home.”
Kampe was unsure of Brechting’s status for the team’s Thursday, March 5 game against Green Bay.
Hill-Mais led the team with 26 points, but three other Golden Grizzlies scored in double digits. The Golden Grizzlies ended the season on a five game home winning streak, something Hill-Mais is proud his teammates will have moving forward.
“I’m glad we have that streak for the guys going next year,” Hill-Mais said. “Now it’s time to win, to take care of business and get to the NCAA tournament. I couldn’t be more happy. Winning the last five home games is something I will never forget.”
The first five minutes of the game were fast-paced, with many loose balls, offensive rebounds and fast break chances. At the first timeout, Oakland led 9-8, with Daniel Oladapo scoring four points.
The intensity of the playoff atmosphere was present in the players and crowd, both were fired up from the tip-off. The full Grizz Gang erupted when Rashad Williams hit an early 3-pointer from the center court logo to take a 15-14 lead.
Before the game, the Grizz Gang and the athletics department teamed up to provide students with free tacos for “Taco Tuesday.”
“Athletics came to us looking for good ideas for the game, they mentioned they wanted to do a Taco Tuesday night,” Grizz Gang President Michael Prestininzi said. “I was sold as soon as I heard Taco Tuesday.”
Hill-Mais led the team in scoring for most of first half. He repeatedly got inside and either found a hook shot or got to the free throw line. After 12 minutes he had 10 points.
Tray Maddox also reached double digits in the first half on the strength of three 3-point jumpers. Threes were the difference in the first half — Oakland shot 6-17 from three, while Cleveland State made zero of their four attempts. At the half, Oakland led 41-26.
Oladapo scored all seven of Oakland’s points to start the second half with the defense focused on stopping Hill-Mais. Oladapo recorded his 14th game with 10+ points this season, finishing with 19.
After a Williams and-one, the Golden Grizzlies stretched their lead to 20 with 15 minutes remaining in the second half. The largest the Oakland lead grew to was 25.
The lead never reached lower than 15 again, and Oakland won by a 21-point margin.
“It couldn’t have played out any better for us, I’m really pleased with the victory,” Kampe said.
With the win, the Golden Grizzlies move onto the quarterfinals. They will face the Green Bay Phoenix in Green Bay on Thursday, March 5 at 8 p.m.