Oakland Tries On Its Dancin' Shoes for the First Time
>>> Kampe's Championship Journal
knew going into the 2004-05 season that things could be
tough for the Golden Grizzlies. After all, there was that
schedule that had the team on the road for six of its first
seven games, not to mention the fact that those seven games
included an impressive array of teams from some of the top
leagues in the nation. What Oakland did not know at the
start of the season was that there was to be a magical
ending to the campaign that would turn a disappointing
season into one of the most memorable in Oakland basketball
history; one that took the Golden Grizzlies all the way to
the NCAA Tournament. Also impressive was the fact that the
“Road to the Final Four” would wind up going right through
Rochester; with OU joining the likes of Indiana, Iowa,
Kentucky and Wisconsin as the only schools to play three of
the four teams in the Final Four, including the eventual
national champion North Carolina Tar Heels.
Beginning the season with just two starters that had
averaged in double figures from the previous year and just
10 players overall, Oakland knew that it would have its job
cut out for it in the opening weeks. Like the season before,
OU opened its season at Xavier in Cincinnati. Rawle Marshall
(Detroit, Mich.), who was the second leading scorer from the
previous season, showed that he was ready to step into his
new role as the team’s top offensive threat by putting in 20
points against the Musketeers to go along with seven
rebounds and a pair of assists. The Golden Grizzlies had a
lead with less than 10 minutes left in the game, but it was
Xavier that came out on top in the end with a 69-58 win.
Marshall would wind up being Oakland’s top scorer and a
first team All-Mid-Con pick at the end of the year. He
reached the 20-point plateau 18 times and finished his OU
career 10th on the all-time scoring list with 1,671 points.
He also finished his career by topping the OU career lists
in blocked shots as well as finishing second in steals. A
three-time Mid-Con Player of the Week during the season, he
led OU in both scoring and rebounding with his averages of
19.9 points and 7.7 rebounds.
did not get any easier for Oakland in its next outing when
OU played at No. 6 Illinois and came away with an 85-54
loss. Hosting Marquette in front of a large home crowd in
the only home game of the first seven, the Golden Grizzlies
and Golden Eagles hooked up in an offensive show, with MU
coming out on top by a 95-87 score despite 31 points from
Marshall and 24 points from Cortney Scott (Lansing, Mich.).
Next up for Oakland was perhaps the toughest part of its
early season schedule. Over a space of six days the Golden
Grizzlies traveled through Big 12 country, playing at Texas
A&M, then Missouri and finishing off the trip with a visit
to Kansas State. Things got off to a rocky start for Oakland
in College Station, where OU shot only 38 percent while the
Aggies hit at a 64 percent clip to out score OU 81-63.
Playing in Missouri’s new arena, Oakland put together a
strong effort against its major conference foe, showing that
last season’s close affair in Rochester against the Tigers
was no fluke. Trailing by just one at the half, Oakland held
a lead early in the second stanza and was within five with
less than three minutes left, but could not get any closer
in a 70-61 loss. At Kansas State the Golden Grizzlies
silenced the home crowd with some impressive first half
shooting, draining seven three-point shots and leading by as
many as 16 points in the first 20 minutes. The hot shooting
did not continue in the second half and the Wildcats were
able to come away with a 76-69 win.
A disappointing loss at Saint Louis dropped Oakland to 0-7
to start the season, but it was against a schedule that was
rated the toughest in the nation at that point.
Oakland finally broke through with its first win of the
season in its next outing when it hosted North Dakota State
in the O’Rena. The Bison held a one-point lead at the half,
but Oakland broke open the game in the final 20 minutes,
scoring the first 21 points of the final period to break the
game open. Freshman Brandon Cassise (Walled Lake, Mich.) had
his break out game of the season, hitting three treys on his
way to a 22-point night to lead the team to the victory.
on the road, Oakland had another poor shooting night at
Akron that led to an 81-52 loss to the Zips. The Golden
Grizzlies had to regroup quickly, as another MAC team was
next on the schedule with Bowling Green, ranked in the
Mid-Major poll, came to call on OU for the last game of
2004. After the disappointment at Akron, Oakland came out
determined against the Falcons and showed that they were a
better team than its record indicated.
Oakland’s defense held BG to just 29 percent shooting and
the Golden Grizzly offense fed off the defense as OU put it
all together to take a convincing 77-53 win, its first ever
against the Falcons.
Starting Mid-Con play with a home game with Centenary, the
Golden Grizzlies dispatched the Gents by placing five
players in double figures led by Marshall’s 23 points to
take a 93-83 win.
The Golden Grizzlies picked losses at IUPUI and at home
against Valparaiso before getting back on the winning track
with a 74-61 win at home against Chicago State. Senior
Cortney Scott, who turned out to be the No. 2 scorer for the
Golden Grizzlies when the numbers were totaled at the end of
the season, stepped to the front against the Cougars,
pouring in 35 points and grabbing 14 rebounds to pace the
team to the win.
Scott, a second team All-Mid-Con pick, proved to be the most
consistent player for Oakland over the course of the season,
starting in every game and reaching double figures in
scoring every time out. He was second to Marshall in scoring
with a career best average of 18.1 per game and also
finished second in rebounding at 7.3. His 668 career
rebounds put him among OU’s all-time leaders in that
category, and he also finished the season among the national
leaders in field goal percentage.
Despite some outstanding play like Scott’s against Chicago
State, Oakland struggled with consistency during the first
half of the conference season and could not string together
back-to-back wins during January. The Golden Grizzlies were
in most of the games they played, and even trailed Michigan
State by just seven at halftime in a late January meeting
with the Spartans, but the team could not seem to find
enough to get it over the hump at the end of games.
started the final month of the season with a loss to UMKC at
home, but followed that up with a solid performance at
Western Illinois that was a hint of things to come later in
the season. OU placed five players in double figures and
took a 14-point halftime lead before holding off a second
half WIU rally that gave the Golden Grizzlies a 72-67 win,
the team’s first on the road all season.
Buoyed by that win, Oakland set off on its Southern Utah-UMKC
road swing with some confidence. The Golden Grizzlies played
well at Southern Utah before falling in the final minute,
67-65. Off to Kansas City to take on the first-place
Kangaroos, the team showed no ill effects from the last
minute loss to the Thunderbirds. In fact, OU played perhaps
its finest game to that point in the season, slowing the
game down and completely taking UMKC out of its rhythm
despite playing in front of a loud crowd of nearly 7,000.
After leading most of the game, Oakland saw UMKC catch up
and go in front by two with eight minutes left. Marshall
then took over for the Golden Grizzlies, scoring seven of an
11-0 run that put OU back in control as they went on to take
a 60-50 upset win that knocked the Kangaroos out of their
Oakland could not carry the momentum of the big win with
them, unfortunately, and the Golden Grizzlies dropped their
next three games, two at home, to fall back in the Mid-Con
Facing an IUPUI team that had handed it a 16-point loss
early in the season, Marshall and Scott both came up big in
their final home appearances as they scored 26 and 25 points
apiece as OU came away with a hard fought, 94-89, overtime
Little did the team know that win would start a snowball
effect that will forever be remembered in Oakland basketball
history. That effect was apparent in the final game of the
season at Centenary, where OU rolled past the Gents by 26
points to prepare for the upcoming Mid-Con Tournament.
tying for fifth in the regular season standings, Oakland
lost the tiebreakers with Western Illinois and Chicago State
and was given the No. 7 seed for the tournament. Never
having won a tournament game in three tries, the Golden
Grizzlies were handed the task of facing No. 2 seed UMKC in
the first round to try and pick up that elusive first win.
OU used the same strategy it did when it upset the Kangaroos
three weeks earlier, and it worked to the tune of a 10-point
halftime lead for OU. Oakland’s offense then went cold in
the second half, scoring only two field goals in the first
13 minutes. But the OU defense stood firm and held off UMKC
long enough for OU to find some offense late in the game
that was enough to give the team another upset over the
Kangaroos and its first Mid-Con Tournament win, 67-63.
Oakland’s deliberate style of play became the team’s
hallmark for the rest of the tournament, and the Golden
Grizzlies used it to knock off Chicago State, 56-53, in the
semifinals to become the first seven-seed to reach the
Mid-Con finals in 16 years.
Top-seeded Oral Roberts was the final hurdle for the Golden
Grizzlies, and playing in front of its home town fans, the
Golden Eagles had easily swept through the first two rounds
to reach the final. Oakland again controlled the tempo of
the contest and as a result the game remained tight
throughout. ORU held just a one-point lead at the half, and
the game came down to the final seconds.
Oral Roberts hit one of two free throws with 17 seconds left
that put it up 60-58. With time winding down, Marshall found
Pierre Dukes (Grand Blanc, Mich.) open in the corner and he
launched a three-point shot that put Oakland on the national
basketball map. His shot hit swished through the net with
1.3 seconds left, and Oakland’s improbable run through the
tournament was complete, earning the Golden Grizzlies their
first trip to the ‘Big Dance’, the NCAA Tournament.
As the only team with a losing record in the NCAA
Tournament, Oakland was placed in the opening round game
against Alabama A&M, the champion of the Southwest Athletic
Conference. In front of a national television audience, the
Golden Grizzlies did not waste any time, jumping out to a
7-0 lead in the game. The game remained tight, however, and
at the half OU held just a 38-35 lead. At the start of the
second half Oakland showed that it was no fluke, putting a
16-2 run on the Bulldogs that essentially put the game away
for OU. When the final horn sounded, Marshall had scored 29
points and the Golden Grizzlies had another school first, an
NCAA Tournament win, with a 79-69 victory.
That win gave Oakland a No. 16 seed and a date to play the
No. 1 seed in the Syracuse Regional, North Carolina. Oakland
battled the Tar Heels nearly even in the final 20 minutes of
that game, but a first half that saw UNC shoot 73 percent
and outscore OU by 26 was enough to allow the ‘Heels to move
on to the next round and the eventual national championship.
Oakland’s season ended there, but it is one that will
forever be remembered in the annals of Oakland basketball