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Drew Ellis covers Oakland University basketball for The Oakland Press. His news and notes keep you up to date with Golden Grizzlies men's basketball.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Golden Grizzlies returning to early-season form

While Oakland struggled through the middle of its regular-season schedule, coach Greg Kampe kept saying he was waiting for the team from November to show up. The Golden Grizzlies were 4-2 in that month with wins over Houston, a common opponent with Tuesday’s opponent Rice; Utah Valley and Tennessee. Oakland also battled at No. 19 Alabama and Arkansas.
The Grizzlies went on to run their winning streak to six games before a six-game slump ensued in late December and early January. Oakland appeared to have righted the ship, finishing the conference season 9-3 after a 2-4 start, earning the third seed to the Summit League Tournament. Then, they fell in a quarterfinal to No. 6 seed Southern Utah after squandering an 11-point lead in the final three minutes of the game.
“It was just a freak thing that happened,” Kampe said. “We played a great game and I told everybody that over and over. Southern Utah played a heck of a game and we played even better. We had a disastrous last two minutes of that game.”
The Grizzlies have won seven of nine going into Tuesday’s CollegeInsider.com Tournament quarterfinal.
“I was happy with the way we were playing,” Kampe said. “We were poised and ready to make a statement in the Summit League tournament and we played a great game. A freak disaster happened and this tournament has allowed us to come back from that and continue to play and pick ourselves up off the ground and move forward and that’s what this team has done.”
With its second-round CIT win over Drake, Rice has now won two postseason games for the first time in its history. Kampe credited coach Ben Braun, who has a history of turning programs around.
“They’ve had basketball at Rice for 100 years and this is the first time they’ve won two postseason games in the same season. He’s done one heck of a job and it doesn’t surprise me. I’ve known Ben since he was at Siena (Heights).”
The Owls play out of the motion offense, which led to their season-high tying 21 assists in Saturday’s win over Drake. Oakland has seen that formation a few times this season, most notably with the Dakotas. The Grizzlies were 1-4 against their conference counterparts in North Dakota State and South Dakota State.
“We know how to guard it, whether we can or not depends on the level of player,” Kampe said. (Rice) is a little bit bigger and stronger (than the Dakotas).”

Three’s a crowd
Oakland will host its third postseason game of the season Tuesday, an extra shot in the arm not seen the past two seasons when the Grizzlies played in the neutral-site NCAA tournament. The Grizzlies’ first game against Bowling Green saw 2,015 fans, while Saturday’s St. Patrick’s Day matinee had 1,685 in attendance.
Many games around the CIT, with a few exceptions, are seeing similar attendance to Oakland’s home games, near the 2,000 mark.
“We’ll get more Tuesday as you go farther in the tournament,” Kampe said. “Anyone who was there Saturday would want to come back because it’s exciting, great basketball.”
The unseasonably warm March weather has also affected the turnout, Kampe said.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever seen a game at Oakland where people were wearing shorts,” he said. “This unique weather has affected us.”

Good sign
Oakland recruit Lloyd Neely from Detroit Crockett finished fifth in the voting for the annual Mr. Basketball award, announced Monday.  
“I was very excited Lloyd was a finalist for Mr. Basketball,” Kampe said. “We really wanted him to win, but he had a fantastic year to be put into consideration as a finalist with four others.”
Neely was also Public School League player of the year.
Oakland forward Drew Valentine’s brother, Lansing Sexton’s Denzel Valentine, was second in the Mr. Basketball voting.

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