With time winding down in the second half, Oakland was in lockstep with Youngstown State. Two of the best teams in the league were going right at each other, and Coach Greg Kampe felt the Golden Grizzlies needed a late spark.
He made his way to the bench, where Rocket Watts had been sitting since coming out of the halftime break.
“Can you guard No. 5?” Kampe said.
Watts must have given a convincing enough answer, because he entered the game a few moments later.
And with 21 seconds remaining in a one-point game, Watts made maybe the best defensive play of Oakland’s season.
He leaped into the air, stole the inbound in the backcourt, then gave Oakland a three point lead on a layup off the steal. An ensuing stop secured the win, and at least a temporary spot all alone in first place.
The win moved Oakland to 7-2 in the league, while also maybe as importantly getting a season sweep and the tiebreaker over Youngstown State.
While the play Watts made will most likely be most remembered from this game, the performance by Chris Conway may have been the most impressive.
Conway started the game with a missed defensive assignment and a turnover, which caused a quick trip to the bench for him. It began a horrid starting segment to the game for Oakland, which saw them trailing 13-0.
However much like his career at Oakland, he stayed the course, and turned in a dominant second half.
Conway scored 13 of his 17 points after halftime, even hitting a three. He did it super efficiently as well, shooting 6-8 from the floor for the game.
They needed every bit of Conway’s big night, as Trey Townsend battled through an illness throughout the night and didn’t quite have the stamina he usually has an advantage with. He was a force to begin the game however, scoring all 16 of his points in the first 21 minutes of the game. He kept Oakland in it while the rest of the offense struggled mightily early on, and still found a way to log 33 minutes.
The other two biggest contributors were Blake Lampman and Dq Cole. Lampman hit 3-8 from three for 11 points, while also adding 4 boards and 4 assists, while Cole went on a 8-0 run by himself in the second half, scoring all of his points during that stretch. He also added 8 rebounds. With the emergence of Cole, and Lampman garnering constant attention, Oakland looks to be a force, with multiple options on how to beat you.
Everyone who saw real time for the Golden Grizzlies added something, and that seems to be the best recipe for them to keep up these winning ways. Tone Hunter provided a spark off the bench, scoring 6 points and grabbing 4 boards. Jack Gohlke helped out big on the glass as well adding 7 rebounds. Buru Naivalurua and Isaiah Jones did their thing on the defensive end, including a highlight block from Naivalurua on 7-3 big Gabe Dynes that deserved the applause it received.
Defensively, the trend of game planning for a stud that could hurt Oakland and shutting him down continued. Brandon Rush went 1-for-9 from three, and scored five points. After his outburst in the Orena last year, it was a welcome sight to see him be slowed down.
This sets up a huge weekend for the Golden Grizzlies, as they head to Wisconsin for the Green Bay and Milwaukee games. Oakland beat both teams at home earlier this season.
The trip begins Thursday in Green Bay. As the standings sit right now, Green Bay is in second place a half game behind Oakland. It will be a mid-season battle behind the first and second place teams in the league, with two players who are both in the running for player of the year. Noah Reynolds is that guy for the Phoenix, while Townsend is back healthy and ready to roll into the contest.
Saturday, Oakland travels to Milwaukee. The Panthers sit at 4-4 in the league, but remain as dangerous as anyone. Both games will be a challenge for Oakland, and any team in the league will be thrilled to leave Wisconsin with 2 wins.
Thursday’s game will begin at 7pm, while Saturday will be a 4pm tip. Both games can be seen on ESPN+.