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Oakland's Horizon League Championship Campaign: In Review

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WXOU’s coverage of Oakland Golden Grizzlies basketball comes to a close with a championship win over the Milwaukee Panthers. The final score was 83-76.

This marks Oakland’s first Horizon League Championship in program history and their first conference championship since 2011. Their transition to the Horizon League was not as rocky as anticipated, but given their success in the Summit League, it took a little longer for Oakland to win a Horizon League Tournament title than expected. The wait is over now, and the Grizzlies are champions. 

Let’s take a look back at their Horizon League Tournament campaign.

Following an excellent 15-5 record in the Horizon League regular season, the Golden Grizzlies earned the first seed in the Horizon League Tournament, which included a first-round bye and a home game against the lowest-remaining seed. That seed turned out to be the Purdue-Fort Wayne Mastodons.

Horizon League Quarterfinals: Oakland vs. Purdue-Fort Wayne

Broadcasters: Noah Stalker on Play-by-Play, Justin Sheppeard on Color,

Joey Hayes on Sideline, Kaylah Snell in the Studio

Early on, the Mastodons were far and away the best team in the conference and put a punctuation mark on that with a monster 21-point win over the Grizzlies at the OU Credit Union O’rena. That game was called by our very own Joey Hayes and Noah Stalker. Fast-forward to the end of the season, the Mastodons hit a slump in January that destroyed their momentum and left them struggling for wins. Oakland had a chance at revenge in the Horizon League Quarterfinals and made the most of it.

A big first half by Oakland guard DQ Cole and a big second half by Rocket Watts gave Oakland a sizeable lead over Purdue-Fort Wayne. A typically-lethal Mastodon attack was stifled by Chris Conway down low and Watts up high. Purdue-Fort Wayne mounted a comeback near the end of the game, but ran out of time top give the Grizzles any sort of grief. Oakland came away with a 75-65 win, and moved onto the semifinal, again facing the lowest-remaining seed. This time, it was the Vikings.

Horizon League Semifinals: Oakland vs Cleveland State

Broadcasters: Gavin Smilowski on Play-by-Play, Harjun Buttar on Color,

Chelsea Bossert in the Studio

If there were ever a team that could be qualified as a “tournament team”, Cleveland State would fit that moniker perfectly. They won the Tournament in 2021 and came up short in last year’s championship game to NKU, so they’ve been able to hit above their weight. With a First-Teamer in Tristan Enaruna coming back after missing the Vikings’ upset at Youngstown State, they were fully armed to face the Grizzlies. Cleveland State’s Tae Williams picked up Enaruna’s slack after Oakland iced him out of the game in the first half.

The Grizzlies had a hard time figuring out Cleveland State’s defense and the game looked almost entirely in the hands of the Vikings. Shooters Jack Gohlke and DQ Cole did enough with each eclipsing 20 points, and Oakland was able to come away with the 74-71 win. They would face the winner of the Milwaukee-Northern Kentucky game in the Horizon League Championship.

Horizon League Championship: Oakland vs Milwaukee

Broadcasters: Gavin Smilowski as Play-by-play, Harjun Buttar on Color,

Chelsea Bossert in the Studio

Milwaukee was the underdog for five straight halves of basketball, starting from a lackluster first half against cellar-dweller Detroit Mercy that put the Panthers’ season into question and left a three-game winning streak to end the regular season in the hands of Kentrell Pullian and BJ Freeman. Needless to say, they overcame the odds in all five quarters leading up to a date with Oakland and a chance at Horizon League history. Unlike Oakland, the Panthers have four tournament championships, but they haven’t been dancing since 2014. The Panthers dropped the season series to Oakland in a pair of thrillers in Rochester and Milwaukee, and were looking to spoil the number one seed’s hopes.

Oakland started out better offensively than against Cleveland State, with 12 points before the first media timeout. Milwaukee’s timeout adjustments proved too much for Oakland and the Panthers controlled the tempo for most of the first half. Kentrell Pullian was the main scorer for Milwaukee, as he had been for the last two matchups. Oakland could not find an answer for Pullian’s dribble drives into the lane, and could not get enough shots to respond as well.

Down the stretch, Milwaukee adjusted personnel away from Oakland forward Trey Townsend, and the reigning Horizon League Player of the Year went to work quickly, making do with one-on-ones and creative feeds to total almost 40 points. He drove the Grizzlies to the finish line, and was a huge reason for their championship run and their automatic NCAA Tournament berth. 

The question remains: What’s next? Or rather, who’s next?

WXOU will be back for the 2024-2025 men’s and women’s basketball seasons. In the meantime, check out our baseball and softball coverage this upcoming season! Continue to tune into WXOU for interviews, continued live sports coverage, and more! We thank you for joining us this season.



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