‘It really hurts’: Oakland defied odds to get to this point, but falls win shy of NCAA Tournament

Cleveland State dominated in the paint in winning the Horizon League championship Tuesday…

'It really hurts': Oakland defied odds to get to this point, but falls win shy of NCAA Tournament 1
'It really hurts': Oakland defied odds to get to this point, but falls win shy of NCAA Tournament 2

Tony Paul
| The Detroit News

When you experience a massive COVID-19 outbreak just before the season that shut your program down for two weeks and only restarted with enough time for three practices, then trail by 41 at halftime in your season opener, then go on to lose that game by 52, then start the season 0-9, you’re not really thinking seriously about making the NCAA Tournament. No matter how much you try to convince yourself, or others, otherwise.

So, in a lot of ways, the Oakland men’s basketball team had a very successful season, all things considered.

Just don’t try telling the Golden Grizzlies that. And if dare, you best duck.

“In my eyes,” said starting point guard Jalen Moore, “it wasn’t good enough.”

Where Oakland played its offense from the rim-out in Monday’s Horizon League tournament semifinal, it played more like out-of-the-rim and the defense could stop nothing inside in Tuesday’s championship game as the season came to a screeching halt in an 80-69 loss to Cleveland State at Indiana Farmers Coliseum. Oakland (12-18) falls one victory short of its fourth NCAA Tournament bid, and first since 2011.

Cleveland State, the No. 1 seed and regular-season champion, dominated inside, particularly in the first half, when it shot 68% from 2-point range. Just 10 minutes in, Cleveland State already had more clean looks than Northern Kentucky had all night Monday. For the game, the Vikings scored 64 in the paint and five from the free-throw line, and just 11 everywhere else.

The Vikings (19-7) closed the first half on runs of 7-0 and 13-2 to lead, 40-28, exploiting the Golden Grizzlies with transition and fast-break offense. And they rarely stopped. Oakland last led, 18-17, halfway through the opening half.

“They were tougher than us. From the 15-minute mark to the end of the first half was really what destroyed us,” Oakland coach Greg Kampe said as Cleveland State celebrated down the hall at center court in a rather surreal scene — confetti flying, but players and coaches wearing masks, and no fans there to join in the hoopla. “We really kind of panicked. We just panicked.

“Losing sucks. It’s just what it is. It does. Unfortunately, for every good team, that’s gonna happen, your season is gonna end except for one team.

“Our team ended a little bit sooner than we would’ve liked.”

BOX SCORE: No. 1 Cleveland State 80, No. 3 Oakland 69

Cleveland State shot 51.4% for the game, mostly because of all the open close looks, while Oakland shot 34.4%, mostly because it again fell back on firing 3’s, few of them open looks, making just 11 of 38.

It was a total reversal from the win over Northern Kentucky, when Oakland dominated inside, both offensively and defensively.

Oakland found itself trailing, 51-35, with 13:45 left, but Zion Young made a 3-pointer, and then quickly hit another — after Jalen Moore missed one, Daniel Oladapo grabbed the rebound and found Young in the corner — to get the deficit back into single digits, at 51-42. But Cleveland State responded with three more easy layups over the next two minutes to keep Oakland at bay. That pretty much was the story every time Oakland seemed to get any momentum, like another Young made 3 at 4:18 to make it 66-58, which was followed by an easy Cleveland State bucket and an Oakland turnover.

Moore led Oakland with 20 points, and Rashad Williams, the Detroit native who transferred out of Cleveland State to Oakland last year, had 15, including four 3-pointers, three in the first half. Young, a total non-factor in the semifinal win over Northern Kentucky, played some big minutes and provided a second-half spark, with 14 points. Oladapo, so big all season, had a rare off night, with four points and three turnovers. He didn’t even attempt a shot in the second half.

“Cleveland State was very physical,” Kampe said. “Dan played good games against them during the season, but he had a tough night. It happens. He pushed himself, tried to get through it, but I don’t think he got to the free-throw line, which is unbelievable for him.”

Micah Parrish, a freshman, had 10 points and nine rebounds.

Torrey Patton had 23 points and 10 rebounds and was named tournament MVP, Tre Gomillion finished with 16 with 13 rebounds, and D’Moi Hodge 15 for Cleveland State. Hodge also had three blocks, including a pair on one Oakland possession in the second half as the Golden Grizzlies were attempting to mount a charge.

Cleveland State, under second-year head coach Dennis Gates, swept the three games against Oakland, and will play in the NCAA Tournament for the third time, and first time since 2009.

“This a wonderful feeling, man,” said Gates, adding one of his first phone calls when he got the job two years ago was to Kampe. “A wonderful feeling.

“This was a sweet opportunity that we put ourselves in, and there’s nothing (better than) cutting down the nets and holding up the trophy.”

This marks the first time the No. 1 seed won the Horizon League tournament since Valparaiso in 2015, and the first current league member to win as the No. 1 since Wright State in 2007. (Valpo won in 2013, and Butler won in 2010 and 2008.)

Kampe, meanwhile, was trying to join Michigan State’s Tom Izzo and Jud Heatchote as Division I coaches in Michigan to make the NCAA Tournament in three different decades. Izzo is about to make it a fourth decade, and would’ve last year had COVID-19 not canceled the NCAA Tournament.

But Kampe will have to wait at least another year, though with Moore and his core expected back — for now; the transfer portal has been in overdrive this week, and Kampe has lost 12 players the last two years — another run, perhaps not as surprising, shouldn’t be far off.

Not that there’s any consolation there.

“It really hurts today,” said Moore, who made the leap from JUCO All-American to first-team all-Horizon League. “Just seeing them celebrate and hearing how happy they were, I watched it. It really hurt.

“A big goal of mine was to get to the NCAA Tournament,” added Moore, who grew up a half-hour away from Indy, in Cloverdale. “It would’ve meant so much to me to get it here at home.

“But it just wasn’t meant to be.”

It probably never was.

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Horizon League men’s tournament

At Indiana Farmers Coliseum, Indianapolis


►No. 1 Cleveland State 71, No. 8 Milwaukee 65

►No. 3 Oakland 69, No. 4 Northern Kentucky 58


►Championship, No. 1 Cleveland State 80, No. 3 Oakland 69


Twitter: @tonypaul1984

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