Team 54 makes history, reaching first Horizon championship game

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Photo Courtesy of Alex Underwood

Rashad Williams dribbling near the corner against Cleveland State in the Horizon League Title game.

Michael Pearce, Editor-In-Chief

For the first time since they joined the Horizon League, the men’s basketball team reached the championship game, facing the No. 1 seed Cleveland State Vikings.

The path to get to the title game was a unique one — not only due to COVID-19, but the history behind Head Coach Greg Kampe and the Golden Grizzlies in the Horizon Tournament.

It hasn’t been an illustrious history for Kampe and Oakland. Since 2011, the school has seen multiple upsets and last-second losses in the Horizon Tournament. But, this season, the team was able to defeat two familiar foes on the road to history. 

After a home overtime win over Youngstown State, the Golden Grizzlies took to Indianapolis to face the team that knocked them out of the tournament two years earlier — the Northern Kentucky Norse. 

Daniel Oladapo led the Golden Grizzlies in scoring and rebounding against the Norse, putting up 19 points to go with nine rebounds. Rashad Williams was not far behind Oladapo in scoring, scoring 17 points and hitting three 3-pointers. Jalen Moore put up another stat-stuffing game of 14 points, seven assists and six rebounds against a talented NKU backcourt. Oakland recorded a season-low four turnovers in the win.

The Golden Grizzlies shot poorly from the free throw line. It wasn’t that they didn’t get to the line, converting was the issue. The Golden Grizzlies shot 38.5% from the free throw line, 10-26. 

Despite that, the team held onto about a 10-point lead for most of the second half, stifling the Norse on offense. Freshman of the year Marques Warrick shot just 3-15 from the floor and 1-9 from 3-point range, one of his worst offensive performances of his young career.

“In my time at Oakland, we’ve won a lot of basketball games, but this is the first time that we’ve ever won a game because of our defense,” Kampe said. “I think we played 40 minutes of incredible defense.”

Kampe credited freshman Micah Parrish for his defensive effort on the perimeter, while praising Oladapo and Trey Townsend for their interior defense.

Horizon League Championship Game

The defensive-minded win set a date with the Vikings — Williams’ former team and the No. 1 seed in the tournament on Tuesday, March 9 at 7 p.m.

Both teams were set to duel for an NCAA Tournament bid, which would be the first for Cleveland State since 2009 and first for Oakland since 2011. Cleveland State was the team to reset their NCAA Tournament drought, winning 80-69 and advancing to the big dance.

Williams came out of the gate firing against his former squad. He hit 3-8 of his 3-pointers in the first half and led the Golden Grizzlies with nine first-half points. Oakland led early on, but Cleveland State —which overcame two deficits in their first two tournament games quickly erased the lead and took one of its own, which they never gave back.

In the last nine minutes of the first half, Cleveland State was able to take control of the game and extend upon their lead. On the strength of a late 13-2 run, Cleveland State led by 12 at the half, 40-28.

For Oakland, the key was the 3-pointer, and the door was locked in the first half.

Oakland shot 16 threes, only making five in the first half. Cleveland State built their lead from the inside-out, scoring 28 first-half points in the paint. CSU shot 57.6% from the floor in the first half, their leading scorer was Torrey Patton with nine points.

Turnovers were critical for Oakland. Cleveland State took care of the ball, turning the ball over just four times, but Oakland struggled turning the ball over and giving CSU easy looks at the basket, which contributed to the disparity in paint points.

The rebounding advantage was evident for CSU as well. The Golden Grizzlies struggled to pull down the few misses CSU had. Oakland was out-rebounded 19-12 through the first 20 minutes.

As the second half progressed, CSU continued to get to the basket and look for inside shots. At the same time, Oakland continued hoisting threes, struggling to come back against an energized Vikings team.

Down 15, Zion Young came into the game for the first time. In his limited minutes, Young hit two threes to cut the CSU lead to nine with 10:30 remaining in the game. Multiple stops had Oakland back in the game with time to spare, down 51-42.

Young converted on an and-one chance for his ninth point of the game, but Cleveland State’s offense was back at it. After their lead was cut to nine, the Vikings came out of their timeout attacking like they had in the first half again. Young ended up leading the team in second-half points, scoring 14.

The Vikings energy carried them throughout the remainder of the game, and they were able to pull away, ending Oakland’s season with a 80-69 win on the big stage.

The loss for Oakland set their final record at 12-18, 12-11 in Horizon League play.