Good afternoon Oakland fans, my name is Blake Schumaker, the Wright State beat writer. I’m not changing sides or anything here, but I’ll be the one piloting this article and I have a tale to tell. To start this story, we need to go back a few months to a Twitter plea for Oakland merch to root against my hometown team.
My discontent for the Dayton Flyers may be well-known at this point – my efforts to shame that other red team into playing Wright State for a renewed Gem City Jam are loud and proud on Twitter. This year however, the Flyers slighted the Raiders again by scheduling not one but two Horizon League opponents: Youngstown and Oakland. Coach Kampe heard my appeal and graciously offered up tickets to UD Arena.
So I took Coach Kampe up on the offer and reserved a seat for me and my wife to attend. While I refuse to root for the Flyers, UD Arena holds a special place for me as one of the best experiences I had the privilege to take part in – the Wright State vs Bryant First Four match in 2022. I was given the ability to be there as media for HoriZone Roundtable in only my first year, and it’s something I’ll never forget. You can read that recap here if you’d like to.
Coach Kampe and the Oakland Golden Grizzlies are returning for the first time since 2005 to UD Arena in similar circumstances. For the first time in their short Division I history, the Oakland Golden Grizzlies were able to win the Summit League’s conference championship and had a date set for the Opening Round matchup with Alabama A&M, which they won by a score of 79-69.
“We’re undefeated in UD Arena, and we’d like to keep it that way,” Kampe said in a Grizz Vision segment prior to the game.
And there was reason to suspect that Oakland may continue that tradition. Oakland has been fighting hard against tough competition, staying in the mix against Power 5 competition like Ohio State, Illinois, and finally dragging a win out of Xavier in their home court. While the last outing against Michigan State proved to be more lopsided than other affairs due to a bad shooting night, the Golden Grizzlies still have the firepower necessary to earn another quality win for the resume.
Dayton has won its last 5 straight off of a flourishing shooter core to balance out the attack of DaRon Holmes II. They are among the top in the nation in 3FG% (3rd) and 3 pointers attempted (24th) and are coming off a dominant win against Cincinnati in the neutral site Heritage Bank Center.
Going into UD Arena felt surreal. This was only the second time I had been in the arena, and as promised in his original tweet, Coach Kampe had placed us right behind his bench. I could hear everything he was saying in team huddles, and had perfect view of the action as it unfolded. It was amazing.
Oakland started off by matching the Flyers, keeping a good handle on the paint while doing so to force UD to shoot outside. In what felt like forever, UD and Oakland went back and forth for nine minutes straight before a stoppage thankfully allowed a break in the action to readjust. Oakland was only down 5 for a majority of the first quarter until Dayton opened the floodgates on their 3 point shooting, raining down three after three from everywhere on the court. Nate Santos and Koby Brea lit up the night for the Flyers, and after maintaining a close race for the first ten minutes, the score lopsided to the Flyers 46-28 at the half.
“You’ve got to stay down when they shoot!” Kampe could be overheard in the huddle. Oakland had successfully stopped DaRon Holmes on the interior, who managed only 1 point in the half, but had trouble locking into the three. On offense, Oakland used their forwards to great effect, with Trey Townsend and Chris Conway able to shoot overtop of the Flyer defense for 8 and 7 points respectively.
The second half brought some light for the Grizzlies, who were doing a much better job of chasing down UD’s offense outside of the paint. Oakland got as close as 13 in the deficit by working the floor. With the defensive pressure turned up, the Flyers shot clock would consistently reach the final seconds and would force a shot. The only problem is that those final heaves often found the net.
The Flyers continued to rain down threes until the Oakland offense went cold halfway through the second and the lead ballooned to the unmanageable twenties. By the time the final score of 91-67 flashed in UD Arena, Dayton had put up an 18-34 effort from 3, a better effort than they had across the floor the whole night. Oakland’s Trey Townsend finished with a game-high 21 points while five Flyers put up double digits.
After shaking hands with Coach Kampe on the way out and thanking him for the tickets and the opportunity, Kampe assured me that the Grizzlies will play better the next go around in Dayton. Considering Dayton’s penchant for keeping games closer than comfortable with other Horizon opponents, the Oakland game was a bit of a surprise. Oakland’s defense had the Flyers locked down in spots that Wright State would hate to be locked out of, but the Flyers simply shot over the defense at an impressive clip. Oakland will be a force to be reckoned with in the upcoming conference play as they start back up again against Cleveland State and Youngstown State on the road, providing an early proving ground for the Grizzlies.
And while another opportunity to put Dayton in their place has passed, my calls for a Gem City Jam remains unfulfilled…