COLLEGE  BASKETBALL: Oakland exorcizes conference demons with Horizon League quarterfinals win over IUPUI

| March 4, 2018 | Comments (0)



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DETROIT — Perhaps a large black veil has been lifted from the faces of Oakland University men’s basketball players.

For five straight years, including the last three in the Horizon League Tournament and two years prior in the Summit League, the Golden Grizzlies have failed to make it past their first game.

Fourth-seeded Oakland, which had only seven scholarship players available and 11 total players after losing five players for the season due to injury, overcame its recent postseason curse with a 62-55 victory Sunday night over fifth-seeded IUPUI in the Horizon League quarterfinals at Little Caesars Arena.

Oakland captured its first win in a conference tournament since 2013.

“People don’t understand the pressure these guys have been under. For 365 days, they’ve heard the chatter from fans, even our own, seen it on youtube and things on Twitter,” noted Oakland coach Greg Kampe. “It’s like the basketball gods have frowned upon us. But we needed to win this way. We gutted it out and found a  way.”

Oakland (19-13) advanced to Monday’s semifinals against eight-seeded Cleveland State at 7 p.m. Second-seeded Wright State and No. 6 Milwaukee will play in the other semifinal at 9:30 p.m.

But not before some tense moments and a pair of controversial plays inside the final five minutes.

“We had those two calls, and one was reversed, and I thought to myself ‘here we go again,’” said Kampe. “But this time it was different. We overcame that and made some huge plays down the stretch.”

Oakland’s Isaiah Brock and seldom-used sophomore Chris Palombizio both recorded blocks in the final two minutes — the Golden Grizzlies recorded 10 blocked shots in the game — and OU closed with a 8-2 run over the final 3:15.

Illinois transfer Kendrick Nunn, the Horizon League MVP, sank four free throws and recorded a key steal in the final 27 seconds to seal the deal for Oakland.

Nunn scored a game-high 18 points but only converted 2-of-10 three-pointers. He added five assists, two steals and two blocks.

“That’s not the Kendrick that we’ve all come to love. He did not play well, going 2-for-10 from three. But he made foul shots at the end and we had several guys make plays when we needed them to,” said Kampe. “Hopefully we come out tomorrow and hit those shots.”

Three other Golden Grizzlies finished in double figures. Senior forward Jalen Hayes had 13 points, seven rebounds and two blocks despite picking up his third foul in the first half and a fourth foul early in the second half.

Senior guard Nick Daniels added 13 points and Brock had 10 points, six rebounds and a conference-tournament-leading six blocks for Oakland, which shot 44.4 percent from the floor (24-for-54).

Senior center Aaron Brennan scored 14 with nine rebounds and senior guard TJ McCall added 12 points for the Jaguars (11-19), who capped their first season in the Horizon League.

IUPUI was held to 37.7 percent (20-for-53), out-rebounded Oakland 35-30 and finished a perfect 10-for-10 from the foul line.

The Golden Grizzlies pushed their first-half lead to 24-16 on a putback from Brock before IUPUI closed the half on a 12-4 run to tie the score 28-28 at the half.

Jaylen Minnett’s off-balance three with 10 seconds left in the half capped the run.

IUPUI last led at the 6:20 mark of the second half on a layup from Evan Hall, 50-48.

Oakland grabbed the lead for good when Palombizio split a pair of free throws with 3:15 remaining.

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