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THE MAGIC OF MARCH


Thank You
By Greg Kampe

Two months have passed since the excitement surrounding Oaklandís first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament. But while the days have turned to weeks and the weather has gotten warmer, the excitement of the Big Dance is still fresh in the minds of everyone.

I cannot begin to express my gratitude and thanks to all of the people that took time to email their thoughts, in the aftermath of our win over Oral Roberts in the Mid-Continent Conference Championship game. It would be an understatement to say that I was overwhelmed with the response. Over a ten-day period I think I may have received an email from every single Oakland fans and alumnus, not too mention the countless basketball fans that wanted to share their thoughts.

It was truly unreal, as was the entire experience of the NCAA tournament.

It began shortly after our win over Oral Roberts and continued for nearly two weeks. I knew that the media blitz was going to be intense, but I had no idea as to the magnitude of it all. For about two weeks, the idea of ďfree timeĒ simply didnít exist.

But that is what March is all about.

Once again I would like to thank every fan and every member of the media that took the time to bring attention to Oakland University.

Climbing the Mountain
By Greg Kampe


A couple of days ago, Wisconsin-Milwaukee coach Bruce Pearl wrote a very insightful column (collegeinsider.com). He wrote that in order to win you first have to be able to dream. How true. However, with all the attention focused on our basketball team, I havenít had much time to dream because I havenít had much time to sleep.

When we defeated Oral Roberts, to capture to the Mid-Continent Conference championship and the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, I knew full well that the media blitz would begin. But I had no idea of the level that it would reach.

To state that it has been overwhelming would not begin to truly encapsulate the last seven-to-ten days. It has been non-stop, but nobody is complaining. Everyone is awe.

One week after beating a very good ORU team, to earn a trip to the dance, we defeated another very good basketball team in Alabama A&M. Vann Pettaway did an outstanding job this season and we knew that it was going to be a hard-fought game.

I am so proud of the way we played. It was certainly one of our best overall efforts of the season. It took us a little time to adjust to the speed of the game. Alabama A&Mís plays at a different speed, something we had not seen much this season, but something that we will certainly see on Friday in Charlotte.

We settled in and found our rhythm, after that first ten minutes. I thought we did a very nice job of controlling the tempo over the course of the final thirty minutes. And our reward for winning on Tuesday night is a date with North Carolina on Friday afternoon. And when you talk about passion and tradition, it doesnít get any bigger than Carolina blue.

In his column, Bruce wrote about climbing that steep mountain and not necessarily having the same climbing gear as Alabama, but still intent on making the climb. The incline in our path is straight up into the clouds.

The North Carolina basketball program is very accustom to the high-altitude atmosphere of college basketball. Their base camp has been nestled at the foot of the summit for decades and they have the climbing equipment to face any challenge. Our camp is somewhat off the main path to the top and our climbing gear was purchased from eBay.

Our programs are worlds apart, but for forty minutes on Friday we meet on the same court with one shot at conquering the mountain.

This entire experience has been unbelievable. A lot of people believe that that the NCAA tournament should consist of the ďbestĒ sixty-five teams and the Oaklands and Alabama A&Ms of the world have no place in the elite field. I could not disagree more.

As the tournament moves into the weekend and turns the corner to the Sweet Sixteen, the vast majority of remaining teams will come from college basketballís power conferences. Most, if not all, the Cinderella teams will have returned to campus to reflect on the season that was. But the opening act of the big dance provides everyone with a chance to dream and that is what makes the NCAA tournament so special.

Implausible, overwhelming, improbable, daunting and impossible are all appropriate terms to describe the task in front of us. But that doesnít mean that our kids donít deserve the opportunity. Unlike other postseason gatherings, the powers of college basketball provide the little guys with one shot at playing the giants of the mountain.

Maybe our chances are minimal at best, but we are still going to suit up and take the court on Friday afternoon. The chance to face a program like North Carolina is what this month is all about.

There is nothing like the madness of March.

A Perfect Performance
By Greg Kampe


I knew that a lot of things had to happen for us to just be in a position to win. We needed to execute our game plan and keep our composure if we were going to be able to beat Oral Roberts. And I knew that we would also need a little luck. On Tuesday night it all came together for forty minutes.

Oral Roberts is a tremendous basketball team. Scott Sutton and his staff have done a tremendous job this season. They have proven that they can play with and beat high-level programs. I knew that they were fully capable of blowing us right off the floor. I really believe that ORU could win a couple of games in the NCAA tournament.

They have been ranked among the top 15 in the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25 all season. They have a lot of talented players and -- more importantly -- they have quality kids on their roster.

The Golden Eagles are very good in transition. When they get their fast break going, they are very difficult to contend with. It was essential for us to slow the pace and be very patient in our half-court offense. I joked with a friend before the game, telling him that we needed to take 34 Ĺ seconds off the shot clock on every trip.

Our game plan was to slow the tempo and play good hard-nosed defense. I felt if we could do both -- and make some shots -- we would be able to stay close.

I am so proud of the way our kids performed. They did a great job of staying composed every time it looked like ORU was going to make a big run. Seemingly every time we had to have a basket -- to slow their momentum -- we got one.

Rawle Marshall was named to CollegeInsider.comís Preseason Mid-Major All-America team and he played like an All-American on Tuesday. Cortney Scott made some big shots and grabbed some crucial rebounds. He also had a great night from the free-throw line. During the season he was shooting around 50 or 60% from the line. Tuesday night he was 7-for-9 from the line. To do what we did, you need everyone to raise their level of play and thatís what everyone did.

In addition to Rawle and Cortney, Brandon Cassise hit three huge three-pointers. We also got great contributions from DeMarcus Ishmeal, Austin Kralisz and Patrick McCloskey. And I think that Pierre Dukesí game-winner will not soon be forgotten by Golden Grizzly fans.

This group has been through a lot this season. We began the season with seven losses and had to overcome some adversity throughout the conference season. Down the stretch, we really started to play much better basketball. Our seven-man rotation had really come together and played as one. I felt good about our team heading into the Mid-Con Tournament, but I could have never imagined that it would play out like it did. We needed a perfect performance and we got one.

I donít think itís a mystery that we will be playing on Tuesday night in Dayton. With a 12-18 record we will most certainly be a part of the play-in game. But right now, I donít think that anyone is concerned about Tuesday.

We are going to enjoy this victory for a couple of days and then begin practicing for our Tuesday-night opponent. I am so happy for everyone associated with Oakland University. This was a great win and one that will not soon be forgotten. And it will not be forgotten by Scott Sutton and his team.

The shame of it is that ORU is definitely a team that could have made noise in the NCAA tournament. They are not just a good team at the mid-major level. Oral Roberts is a great team. Anyone who has seen them play this season can attest to the fact that itís a team that can play with anyone in America.

The Mid-Con has never received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament and most of the so-called experts will tell you that it wonít change this year. Unfortunately, most of those so-called experts havenít seen ORU play on a regular basis. If they had, they would be making a case for them to get an at-large bid.


GAME RECAP

Tulsa, Okla. (Mar. 8, 2005) Ė Oakland showed that dreams do come true here tonight, as Pierre Dukes (Grand Blanc, Mich.) hit a three-point shot from the corner with 1.7 seconds left to lift the Golden Grizzlies to an upset 61-60 win over top-seeded Oral Roberts in the championship game of the Toshiba Mid-Continent Conference Tournament Championship. The win gives Oakland its first Mid-Con Tournament title and its first trip to the NCAA Tournament. Cortney Scott (Lansing, Mich.) had 19 points to lead Oakland, while Tournament MVP Rawle Marshall (Detroit, Mich.) had 18 points for the Golden Grizzlies.

Both teams traded baskets in the early going and after five minutes of play it was Oral Roberts that held a 6-4 lead. At that point Oakland made its first move of the game, going on a 7-0 run that put the Golden Grizzlies up 11-6 on jumper by DeMarcus Ishmeal (Detroit, Mich.) at the 12:12 mark.

Oral Roberts recovered from the OU run quickly, answering with a 5-0 spurt of it's own to take a 16-13 lead on a trey from Andrew Meloy with 8:44 to play in the half. The Golden Eagles held a 19-17 advantage two and a half minutes later when they managed to open up a bit of a gap of their own. ORU scored five straight, taking a 24-17 lead at the 3:51 mark on a lay-up by Ken Tutt.

Much like on Monday night against Chicago State, Brandon Cassise (Walled Lake, Mich.) stepped up and hit a couple of big three-point shots, with his second bringing Oakland back to within a point at 26-25 with 1:29 left in the half. From that point the two teams traded baskets and the Golden Eagles held a slim 28-27 edge at the half. The shooting numbers reflected the closeness of the contest, with each team shooting at a 44 percent clip.

Oakland got things going on the right track to start the second half, with Scott starting things out with a basket and drawing a four, converting the three-point play that put OU up 30-28. A Marshall basket pushed the lead to four points and at the first media timeout with 15:58 left the Golden Grizzlies held a 37-32 advantage.

Oakland kept plugging away and after an ORU basket got five straight points, four on hoops by Marshall, to take their largest lead of the game at 42-34. The Golden Eagles came back with four straight points to cut the OU lead in half, but Scott came up with a pair of free throws to halt that ORU charge. ORU came right back with a trey from Tutt and a basket by Caleb Green, but Oakland responded with a pair of hoops from Marshall that put OU back up 48-43 with 7:40 left.

Oral Roberts showed why they were the No. 1 seed of the tournament and came back, riding the momentum of a loud home town crowd of over 6,000, charged back into the lead when Luke Spencer-Gardner nailed his first three-point shot of the game with 5:20 left that made it 52-50 in favor of the Golden Eagles. From there it was back-and-forth and Cassise put OU back up by three with another trey with three minutes left only to see Spencer-Gardner answer to tie the game once again. With 2:20 left he hit a pair of free throws to put ORU back up by two, a lead they would hold until the end.

After Scott cut the lead to one by hitting one of two free throws with 1:56 showing, but neither team could find the range for the final seconds, with ORU missing a pair of threes and Oakland one shot of its own. Jonathon Bluitt hit one of two free throws with 17 seconds left that put Oral Roberts back up by a pair at 60-58.

With its one possession left, Dukes found himself in the corner as time was expiring and launched a shot that will be long remembered in Oakland basketball history.

Oakland will discover where it plays its first game this Sunday when the NCAA announces the tournament bracket.


2005 Toshiba Mid-Continent Conference Menís Basketball All-Tournament Team
Caleb Green, Oral Roberts
Rawle Marshall, Oakland (MVP)
Andrew Meloy, Oral Roberts
Cortney Scott, Oakland
Ken Tutt, Oral Roberts.

 

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