#HLMBB Finals – Oakland bests Milwaukee; nets first-ever tourney crown

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Photo by Bob McDonald

For Oakland, the years since arriving in the Horizon League in 2013 have provided a lot of close calls to reaching the top of the conference heap and getting the bid to the NCAA Tournament. But heartbreak after heartbreak greeted the Golden Grizzlies at every turn.

Not this year.

True, the top seed in the conference tournament has only came out on top once before (Cleveland State, 2021). And the competition was even fiercer than in previous years, with three 20-win teams in its way. But Oakland still won out and became tournament champions, beating the final 20-win team in its path, Milwaukee, 83-76.

“We beat a hell of a team,” said Golden Grizzlies head coach Greg Kampe. “And we just won a conference that had five 20-win teams. We just won the regular season and we won the tournament and I can’t tell you how hard that is. And I am so proud of these guys.”

At the focal point of the victory was, as it has been for many an Oakland triumph over the last four years, was Trey Townsend, who finished with a career high 38 points and 11 rebounds and was named tournament MVP, joining teammate Jack Gohlke, Panthers BJ Freeman and Faizon Fields, and Northern Kentucky’s Trey Robinson on the all-tournament team.

For Milwaukee, a season that was riddled with injuries to key players still gave head coach Bart Lundy the distinction of being the first coach in school history to start their career with back-to-back 20-win seasons. Even with that, Lundy reflected on the future he envisions for his squad.

“We’re making progress; not where we want to be,” Lundy said. “I really wanted the city of Milwaukee to experience the NCAA tournament. The really is desperate for it. We are the city school. We take a lot of pride in that. But we’ll get there.”

It was clear that the Golden Grizzlies looked for Townsend to lead them down the stretch and to victory, as evident in a pivotal moment in the closing minutes of the game, Kampe recalled.

“We got to the sideline and we’re standing there and Jack Gohlke, who’s a really good player, right? Who could have been the All-League, he could be everything, and Blake Lampman who is All-League and a really good player. The five of us were standing there. The guy’s on the court with me and a bunch of players. I think there was a something going on at the scorer’s table. So, we all stand there and Jack can grabs me and says, ‘This is Trey, T’s moment the ball goes to him.’

“Now, this guy (Lampman) wants to shoot the three, right?” Kampe continued. “And he’s then he starts beating on people and saying ‘It’s Trey T’s moment. The ball’s going to him.’ I didn’t have to coach. And the ball went to him, the rest of the game, he delivered.”

It was a moment in which the Panthers fought back and forth for control of the game, as they did with a key basket from Langston Wilson, who filled in for a then-shaken up Aaron Franklin, to take the lead, and later Freeman, with 2:53 left, to tie it up again.

But Townsend was the critical component, especially at the free throw line, which Milwaukee seemed all too happy to put him at. Add in more foul shots from Lampman and DQ Cole, and Oakland sealed the win.

In addition to Townsend, the Grizz were led by Lampman, who finished the game with 12 points, and Chris Conway, who hit a double-double, scoring 11 and rebounding 10. For the Panthers, Erik Pratt led them with 16, Kentrell Pullian chipped in 15, and Freeman finished with 14.

With Selection Sunday approaching, most bracketologists have slated Oakland as a 14 seed. While the destination is unknown, the one wish that Kampe hopes is granted is that the tourney location is in close proximity to a Portillos, long known to Horizon League fans as his go-to eatery.

“You know I’m going to talk to (Horizon League commissioner) Julie (Roe Lach) afterwards and make sure what she talks to the committee that it unless our seed goes down for it, that’ll probably be my most important piece of this,” Kampe joked.

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