Thursday, March 7 By Ryan Taegel
ROCHESTER, MI – Of the remaining four teams left in the Horizon League tournament, Oakland University has the least experience by far.
Going into their Wednesday night matchup at the O’rena against the Penguins from Youngstown State, not a single player for the Golden Grizzlies had started in a Horizon League tournament game; none of that seemed to matter.
Oakland fought their way to an 88-84 victory over YSU. The win was a fifth straight for OU, which secured their spot in the second of two Horizon League semifinals to be played at Little Caesars Arena on Monday night.
Though Oakland were favorites heading into the game as the higher seed, the Penguins have always been a problem for the Golden Grizzlies. Just two years ago, Youngstown defeated OU on a last second shot that ended their season in a Horizon League tournament quarterfinal.
Oakland head coach Greg Kampe wasn’t expecting any less of a battle on Wednesday night.
“There’s some teams you matchup well against and we’ve been that for them,” Kampe said. “We’ve had some unbelievable one point, last second shot games with them so there was no reason to think this wasn’t going to be that way. They’ve been a bugaboo for us.”
Oakland got off to a fast start taking a 9-0 nothing advantage inside the first five minutes. But the combination of clutch shooting and the relentless press of Youngstown State never allowed Oakland to pull away in this game. Every time Oakland would extend a five-point lead to double digits, the Penguins would answer right back with a forced turnover and/or a couple of three pointers.
Youngstown’s press was a major factor in keeping the game tight. Golden Grizzles freshman point guard Braden Norris had his struggles getting the ball up-court, but with the help of team leaders Brad Brechting and Xavier Hill-Mais, OU was able to limit damage throughout the game.
“In any way I’m trying to contribute on the court,” said Hill-Mais. “Whether it’s rebounding, scoring, passing I’m just trying to go out there and be that guy.”
For the second straight game, Tray Maddox Jr. and Jaevin Cumberland were outstanding. Cumberland was the leading scorer with 23 points while Maddox tallied 19 of his own. Maddox impressed on both ends of the floor including a steal and score with 12:47 remaining that made it a 52-47 game.
The most major difference between both teams were the number of trips to the charity strike. OU shot 45 free throws to Youngstown’s 10. Both coaches had differing opinions on what lead to the disparity. Coach Kampe insisted it was the style of defense being played, fronting the post on entrance passes along with the aggressive full-court press. All Penguins head coach Jerrod Calhoun could say was he’d never seen anything like it.
Oakland will now play Northern Kentucky in the semi-finals. The Norse defeated University of Detroit Mercy 99-88 to advance through the quarterfinals.