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Inside look at high school and Oakland University sports from Oakland Press sports writer Dave Pemberton.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Oakland-Oral Roberts notes

Oakland started off the important month of February with a quality win over four-time defending Summit League champion Oral Roberts. The Golden Grizzlies showed they are not about to lay down despite being out of the regular-season league race and beat a team that is fighting for a league championship.

Bench comes up big
One of the big factors in the game was the production of Oakland’s bench. Senior Dan Waterstradt (10 points, five rebounds and two blocks) and freshman Blake Cushingberry (eight points, five rebounds and two assists) played quality minutes, and were a big part of Oakland’s inspired defensive play.

It was Waterstradt’s first game in double figures since the Grizzlies lost to Oral Roberts in overtime on Jan. 10. The senior had just five points combined (all in the Western Illinois game) in Oakland’s last five games. He suffered an injury in the first Oral Roberts game that may or may not have been bothering him, but having him providing energy and spreading the defense with his outside shot is huge. Other teams are not used to having to guard Oakland’s big men on the perimeter so having Waterstradt hitting from outside is huge. I remember hearing Oral Roberts coach Scott Sutton shouting instructions to guard Waterstradt on the perimeter to his players during Thursday’s game.

Cushingberry two 3-pointers late in the second half were huge and might get him going offensively. If Cushingberry can come off the bench and contribute offensively than Oakland can be a dangerous team. The freshman also played solid defense and coach Greg Kampe commented that Cushingberry’s defense was why he played 31 minutes.

“This was a game that we had to win at the defensive end," Kampe said. "That’s why you saw Waterstradt play more and Cushingberry play more. We really believed that we were going to win at the defensive end, and for a while it looked like we were playing no defense. That’s why Drew (Maynard) didn’t play as much. He’ll be in the starting lineup Saturday, he’ll play 25-30 minutes, and he’ll bounce back.”

Offensive juggernaut
Oral Roberts had not allowed a team to score over 80 points since No. 3 North Carolina scored 100 on Dec. 13. The Grizzlies snapped that 13-game streak by scoring 81 points and shot 56.1 percent from the field.

In league play Oakland is averaging 76 points a game, tops in the league. Keith Benson (19 points) and Johnathon Jones (17 points, 13 assists) combined to shoot 15-for-18 from the field, while senior Erik Kangas led the balanced effort with 21 points.

“That’s what our team is built around,” Jones said of the team effort. “We’ve got so many guys that can step up in key moments. Cushingberry stepped up and hit two big 3s, Kangas was himself like he is every game. Benson on the inside, and Will – but the person that really stepped up today was (Dan) Waterstradt. He hit some key baskets. You look for him to rebound, and he did. He got some key rebounds for us and really brought the energy for our team tonight.”

Sutton said he thought his team lost the game on the defensive end. “The game wasn’t lost on the offensive end,” Sutton said. “We aren’t averaging a whole lot of points. The game was lost defensively. I’m not sure when the last time we gave up 81 points was. Tonight we shot close to 39 percent, they shot 56. I think normally teams are averaging 62 points against us, and tonight they got 81. That was the difference for us.”

Home-court advantage
Oakland improves to 7-0 at home with the victory Thursday night and have four home games remaining, starting with Centenary on Saturday. The victory also allows Oakland to split with the two teams that will likely finish at the top of the league in Oral Roberts and North Dakota State.

“It was huge," Kangas said of beating Oral Roberts. "I’ve only beaten these guys once in my career. We don’t want to lose at home this year, that’s one thing we really want to accomplish. It’s good for our confidence, too, because we know going into the tournament that we can beat these guys.”

Quote to note
“I thought (Oakland) was terrific tonight. Offensively they played a really great game. I thought they played like a team that had more to play for, which really disappoints me. We are sitting here basically in first place and I thought our guys didn’t play with the passion and the intensity our teams normally play with. I give Oakland a lot of credit. We didn’t do a good job defensively and they made us pay." — Oral Roberts coach Scott Sutton



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