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Oakland Tries On Its Dancin' Shoes for the First Time

Oakland 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.

Things 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.

Back 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.

Oakland 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 first-place position.

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 standings.

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 win.

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.

Despite 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 history.



              © 2018 Greg Kampe. All rights reserved.