Coming into the month of February, the Golden Grizzlies have a chance to be one of the top four teams heading into the Horizon League Tournament. Currently at 7-5 in-conference and 9-14 overall, the Golden Grizzlies are currently 5th in the standings. They sit behind Youngstown State, Milwaukee, Cleveland State, and Northern Kentucky who are all at 9-3 in-conference. Below them are Purdue Fort Wayne, Wright State, and Robert Morris, who all sit at 6-6 in conference. Oakland is in a unique spot, sitting in the middle of four 9-3 teams and three 6-6 teams, where they are chasing as well as being chased.
These upcoming games to finish out the season are going to be crucial for the Grizzlies. Luckily, six of the last eight games of the season are played in the O’Rena, where Oakland is currently 3-1, only losing to top-ranked Youngstown State on Jan 14th. Not only are these games important for the tournament, but they are important for veterans Jalen Moore and Keaton Hervey. Both players are in their last seasons and want nothing more than to have a chance to win it all. When talking about this on The Greg Kampe Show, associate head coach Jeff Smith said, “They want to do it for Keaton and Jalen. And they talk about that every day because that’s who this group of guys is.”
This weekend, the Grizzlies host Purdue Fort Wayne Thursday at 7pm as well as Cleveland State on Saturday at 1pm. First facing both teams on the road in the first week of conference play, it was a tale of two halves. In their game at Cleveland State losing 64-80, head coach Greg Kampe said in his postgame interview, “That was awful. That was one of the worst college basketball games I’ve coached” A lack of energy and motivation got the best of Oakland coming off three straight losses in the Nassau Championship Tournament the week before in the Bahamas. The Grizzlies were able to relight the fire in their nationally televised game against Purdue Fort Wayne, where they unfortunately lost in overtime 73-79. Oakland now looks to split the series against both teams and close the gap with the top four teams in the league.
The following weekend, the Grizzlies travel away one last time, facing Green Bay and Milwaukee on Feb 9th and Feb 11th. The Grizzlies have a chance to sweep both teams since they beat them at home over the holiday break, 83-61 against Milwaukee and 81-65 against Green Bay. Those wins were massive for Oakland, as it was the start of a five-game win streak that dug them out of an 0-2 hole to start league play.
The last four games are all home games against IUPUI, Detroit Mercy, Wright State, and Northern Kentucky, all of whom Oakland has beaten on the road earlier this season. Although IUPUI ranks last in the Horizon League, the Oakland coaching staff knows to be careful not to overlook the Jaguars, as they took the Grizzlies into overtime in their last meeting. In their last matchup at Detroit Mercy, all eyes were on Antoine Davis and his pursuit of the all-time NCAA scoring record. Oakland’s defense was able to hold Davis to only 14 points that game. When talking about the defensive game plan for this game, Kampe said after the game that, “We executed that game plan to perfection.”
The last two games will be rematches against teams that Oakland was able to beat on the road during their early five-game win streak in early January: Wright State and Northern Kentucky. Both games came down to the last seconds, with Rocket Watts shooting a 3-pointer with 12 seconds left to win the game 75-73 against Wright State and Jalen Moore scoring nine points in the last 95 seconds of the game to win at Northern Kentucky.
Expect the month of February to be one full of exciting games as Oakland looks to make a push for a top four spot in the league.