For Oakland on Wednesday night, it felt like the type of game that you win if you’re for real, and lose if you aren’t. This is a Northern Kentucky team that was in the NCAA tournament last year, and has won four of the last seven Horizon League tournaments. They had mucked up the game exactly how they wanted, and we’re holding Oakland in check through most of the night.
The Golden Grizzlies however, matched them stop for stop, and eventually, broke through for the win.
Oakland took a 70-65 overtime decision to move to 5-2 in the league, and a tie for first in the Horizon. It also moved them to 10-8 overall on the year.
The first half was ugly, NKU held a 29-24 lead, and Oakland couldn’t do anything offensively, outside of Trey Townsend who was in double figures at the break. It was clear that points would be hard to come by all game long.
But when NKU scored the first six of the second half to go up 11, you wondered if Oakland could muster up enough to complete a comeback.
That’s when things heated up. Oakland kept getting stops, and turned defense into offense. Once those easy baskets started flowing, the Golden Grizzlies got just enough from the perimeter to close the gap, and eventually overtake the advantage.
Outside of the defense that held the Norse to 58 at the end of regulation, the story of the night was DQ Cole. The Pontiac native had his best game as a Golden Grizzly, scoring 17 points and grabbing 8 rebounds. He made 3-9 from three point range, and all of them were in the clutch, and from deep range. All of that combined with a highlight dunk early in the game, made for a full display of Coles talents.
Those talents were badly needed on this night, as the rest of the team struggled from deep. Oakland shot 6-26 from beyond the long line as a team.
Blake Lampman struggled going 1-7 from deep, and had 4 turnovers. He did however, grab 5 boards, tally 2 steals, and ice the game with 3 free throws late in overtime. He ended with 6 points.
Although the shooting numbers weren’t great from Jack Gohlke and Rocket Watts, they each had stretches of the game where they took on a bulk of the scoring load. Gohlke scored 9 points, including two threes. It was a part of a stretch in the second half where he scored 9 straight for the Golden Grizzlies. While Rocket Watts was 0-4 from 3, he added 10 huge points, and some stellar defense on POY candidate Marques Warrick, particularly late in the game. Watts had a look to win the game in regulation and couldn’t convert. He responded by scoring the first four points in overtime.
The defense on Warrick was a complete team effort, and it is becoming a story how well Oakland can take a star out of the game.
Warrick, Green Bay’s Noah Reynolds, Cleveland State’s Tristan Enaruna and Youngstown State’s Brandon Rush have all struggled against Oakland’s defense. Even in the non-conference, players such as Tyson Acuff and Tucker Devries couldn’t find rhythms.
Guys like Watts and Lampman are huge parts of that, but another key cog in that is Isaiah Jones. He didn’t have his best game on Wednesday, but provided a huge steal and dunk to spark the run that brought Oakland back into it.
After Trey Townsend posted 13 first half points, Oakland’s dynamic duo inside was fairly limited. Townsend ended with 18 and 7 boards, and Chris Conway added 6 points and 8 rebounds. They were still huge figures in a game that didn’t see them be completely dominant.
With Tone Hunter and Buru Nailvalaura also adding 3 rebounds each, every Golden Grizzly player that saw the floor grabbed at least 3 rebounds. Coach Kampe talked all off-season about rebounding being maybe his biggest concern, and it continues to be a complete team effort every night on the glass.
After a nice home stand, the show will now go on the road for a game in Indiana against IUPUI. The Jaguars currently are 1-6 in conference play and sit in 10th place. They are 5-13 overall.
The record and rankings are not pretty, but they have proven to be competitive at home. A 4-4 home record, although 3 wins have been against non division 1 schools, show they are comfortable on their home court. Their last three home games have included a win over Detroit, and two close losses to Green Bay and Cleveland State.
Oakland saw this first hand last year, needing to squeak out an Overtime win in Indy.
The Jaguars are led by rerunning All-League guard Jlynn Counter, who averages over 14 points a game. Bryce Monroe, Vincent Brady and Dj Jackson are all also back from last year, and round out the top four scoring list for the Jags.
This is an important game for Oakland to clear to stay at the top of the league. It tips off Saturday at 2pm Eastern on ESPN+.