Milwaukee, WI – Oakland departed its campus just north of Detroit last week for a regular season-ending two-game trip to Wisconsin knowing it would need some luck to return home as champions of the Horizon League. Trailing Valparaiso by a game, the Golden Grizzlies pretty much knew they would have to sweep Green Bay and Milwaukee and hope for a Valparaiso loss in one of its last two regular season games.
Oakland defeated Green Bay on Friday night, and as its game in Milwaukee restarted after half time, word trickled out that Valparaiso had just lost to Northern Kentucky. An Oakland victory would improve its record to 14-4 and lift the Golden Grizzlies into a tie with Valparaiso for the Horizon League Championship.
Behind the torrid shooting of redshirt senior Sherron Dorsey-Walker, who connected on eight of eleven three-point shots on his way to scoring a game-high 28 points, Oakland pulled away from a 39-39 halftime tie to defeat the Panthers 86-75 to claim a share of the conference title. “It feels really good,” said a proud Oakland Coach Greg Kampe. “I’ve always believed good things happen to good people especially if those people are will to do the extra work and believe in themselves.”
Dorsey-Walker, a transfer from Iowa State, started the game like he might just shoot the Golden Grizzlies past the Panthers all by himself. He staked Oakland to a 6-0 lead connecting on a catch-and-shoot three-point shot from the corner and another off the dribble from above the top of the key. Milwaukee did not have an answer for the 6-4 Dorsey-Walker as he finished the half with 18 points on six of seven shooting from behind the arc.
“We were double teaming the post and they were able to get the ball out,” said Milwaukee Coach LaVall Jordan. “We didn’t have great communication on our rotations. He (Dorsey-Walker) has the size where he can shoot even if we were there on the close.”
“He (Dorsey-Walker) didn’t break a sweat tonight,” said Kampe. “Sharron has always done the extra work. I had a good feeling he would come through because he deserved it.”
Jordan can hardly be blamed devising a defensive approach designed to take away Oakland’s interior scoring while taking his chances on the Golden Grizzlies’ shooting from distance. Oakland two most prolific shooters from behind the arc, Dorsey-Walker and redshirt junior Martez Walker, entered the game shooting a combined 32 percent from distance, below average by NCAA division one standards.
But in addition to Dorsey-Walker’s hot shooting, Walker had his long-distance shooting game going as well making four of seven three-point shots. A transfer from Texas, Walker finished second on the Oakland scoring list with 21 points. “It’s hard when we put ourselves in a hole that big (in the second half),” said Milwaukee’s Brock Stull, whose 21 points led the Panthers in scoring. “Every time we got a little closer, they’d make a shot and ruin the momentum we had.”
Kampe relied heavily on his starters on Sunday with each averaging over 32 minutes of playing time. But when he went to his bench in the second half, he received a huge lift from sophomore Xavier Hill-Mais, a 6-7, 250 pound big from Greensboro, North Carolina. A back-to-the-basket post player, Hill-Mais went to work shortly upon his insertion into the game at the 15 minute mark of the second half. In between a short shot in the paint, the right-hand dominant Hill-Mais connected on jump hooks with first his left hand and then his right hand.
“That was a big momentum swing when Hill-Mais made those three baskets right in a row,” said Jordan.
Although their numbers did not stand out the way Dorsey-Walker and Walker’s did, Oakland got what it needed from its two starting bigs, 6-7 redshirt junior Jalen Hayes and 6-8 freshman Isaiah Brock. Both are run-and-jump post players who fit in well with Oakland’s fast-paced attack. Entering the game as Oakland’s second leading scorer, Hayes finished with 12 points and used short jump hook shots in the paint with his dominant hand (left) for the majority of his five field goals. Brock fell just short of a double-double scoring eight points and collecting nine rebounds. Two of his three baskets came running the floor and cleaning up his teammates’ misses in transition.
Even as Oakland and Valparaiso enter the Horizon League Tournament with identical 14-4 records, Oakland earned the top seed based on its two regular season wins against Valparaiso. “Since we beat them (Valparaiso) twice, we get the automatic bid to the NIT (National Invitational Tournament),” said Kampe. “We don’t want to go to the NIT, but it’s a nice consolation prize.”
Kampe was reflective in his post-game thoughts recalling the time five years ago when Oakland made the jump from the Summit to the Horizon League. “We had our way in the Summit and if we had stayed in that league, we would have been in the (NCAA) tournament a few more times than we’ve been in it,” said Kampe. “Our president asked me if we were going to make the move, can we win? I said ‘yes,’ but it’s not going to be easy. I promised less than five years and this was out last chance to fulfill that promise. It’s emotional for me to come through on that promise.”
So it’s on to the conference tournament for both schools to be held at the Joe Lewis Arena, home of the Detroit Red Wings, in downtown Detroit, Michigan from March 3-7. Milwaukee takes on Detroit-Mercy on March 3 while Oakland gets started on March 4 against the winner of the March 3 match-up between Cleveland State and Youngstown State.
In years past, the regular season league champion, Oakland in this case, would have hosted the conference tournament in its own gym. “It could have been at the O’rena (Oakland’s home gym), but I’m glad it’s a neutral site,” said Kampe. “This league needs to wrap its arms around Joe Lewis Arena. It’s great for the kids and teams. I just hope we’re around for all four days of it.”
Milwaukee heads to Detroit dragging a nine-game losing streak with it. But Milwaukee senior Cody Wichmann sounded upbeat as his team started its preparation for Detroit. “Anything can happen in the tournament,” said Wichmann. “No one gave us much of a chance in my freshman year, and we ran the table and won it. It’s a possession by possession game from here on out. As coach told us, we’ve played every team tough at one point this year, and that gives us hope.”
This article was written by Tom Osowski, a correspondent and scout for NetScouts Basketball. You can subscribe to our RSS feed from the upper right corner of our home page, follow us on Facebook, or on twitter.
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