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

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Top 10 moments of 08-09 season

The 2008-09 Oakland men’s basketball season is over. It was a memorable year with plenty of ups and downs as the Golden Grizzlies broke several team and individual school records on their way to a 23-win season, the most in the Division I era. Here are some of the most memorable moments from the season in chronological order, anybody is welcome to put them in their own order or let me know if I missed one.

Oakland wins at Oregon
Not many people thought Oakland could go into Oregon and get a win, especially after defeating the Ducks at The Palace of Auburn Hills the year before. The Grizzlies not only won this game behind a dazzling 32-point performance from Johnathon Jones, but showed a lot of mental toughness by doing it in overtime. Erik Kangas hit three free throws to give Oakland the lead with 33 seconds left and Blake Cushingberry putting them up 3 with a pair of free throws before Tajuan Porter hit three free throws to send it into overtime. I was listening to the game on the radio in the office and when went it went to overtime I told a co-worker that I thought Oakland lost its chance to win this one and Oregon would likely take it in overtime. Boy was I wrong. Kangas converted a three-point play 19 seconds in and the Grizzlies never trailed in overtime.

Freshman sizzle in Vegas Invitational
Freshman Drew Maynard scored 21 points and freshman Blake Cushingberry added 11 points, including the first three 3-pointers of his career as Oakland rallied from a 42-33 halftime deficit to beat Delaware State. The Grizzlies were playing without Erik Kangas, who was out with an injured ankle. The game I thought was a glimpse into Oakland’s future and propelled the team to the lower-bracket championship in the Las Vegas Invitational.

Grizzlies hand Green Bay lone home loss
This is in my mind Oakland’s most impressive win of the regular season. Green Bay (22-11) was 13-1 at home, with its lone home loss being to Oakland. The Phoenix finished the season ranked No. 16 in the mid-major top 25. Kangas came through in the clutch with a 3-pointer with 52 seconds left in overtime to put the Grizzlies up two, 75-73. Oakland held on from there.

Benson’s double-double against U-M
Sophomore Keith Benson had 23 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks in Oakland’s loss to Michigan at the Palace of the Auburn Hills. The game helped kick start Benson’s breakout season, where he established himself as a low-post threat for the Grizzlies. Benson even said the Michigan game gave him confidence that he could be dominant against anybody.

Kangas 3-pointer lifts OU over Bison
Battling a cramp in his calf, Kangas played through the pain and hit the game-winning 3-pointer with five seconds left. In a rare display, Oakland head coach Greg Kampe rushed to halfcourt and hugged Kangas at the conclusion of the game. Kangas said it was his most memorable coach Kampe moment. I was on vacation the week of the game, but attended as a fan, dragging my wife along with me. She didn’t miss many games after that.

Kangas nets 39 in win at IPFW
In one of the best offensive performances I’ve seen live, Kangas poured in 39 points, including eight 3-pointers in a 93-88 win over the Mastodons. IPFW tried everything it could to slow down Kangas, but nothing worked. I think an older gentleman that sat in front of me put it best when he said, “Man that guy can shoot,” after Kangas buried an NBA range 3-pointer with a defender in his face.

Kangas hot-streak continues
Kangas hit eight 3-pointers in a win over IUPUI and then hit seven against Western Illinois to become Oakland’s all-time leader in 3-pointers. It gave Kangas 23 3-pointers in three games. In a classy move Oakland announced that Kangas was the new all-time leader and Kampe even called a timeout so the crowd could cheer Kangas’ accomplishment. Kangas won back-to-back Summit League Player of the Week honors for his effort.

Oakland dominates Oral Roberts
The Grizzlies lost a tough one in overtime at Oral Roberts earlier in the season and were coming off a pair of losses at the Dakotas. Kampe later said he thought the South Dakota State loss changed the team’s season and the players became committed to defense after it. Oakland’s ‘Big Three’ all had huge games as Kangas netted 21 points, Benson had 19 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks and Jones had 17 points and 13 assists. The win was the first of nine straight for Oakland.

Oakland completes perfect home season
Oakland defeated UMKC, 100-88, in the regular-season finale to finish the regular season 11-0 at the O’Rena and earns its first 20-win season since turning Division I. Despite being out of the conference tournament race, the Kangaroos didn’t allow Oakland to coast to victory and gave an inspired effort. But Oakland used its offense to win the game. Also memorable was senior Ricky Bieszki making his first career-start and addressing the crowd along with fellow seniors Dan Waterstradt and Kangas after the game.

Grizzlies reach Summit League title game
Playing basically road games in the semifinals against South Dakota State and in the finals against North Dakota State, Oakland appeared on its way to the NCAA tournament before the Bison rallied and defeated the Grizzlies on a last-second shot by Ben Woodside. Seeing the Grizzlies come into the semifinal game in front of a packed house and dominate the game from start to finish was impressive to see. The loss in the finals may have erased the memory for some of how well Oakland played for 75 minutes in three days, but the Grizzlies gave it their all and came up just a bit short. The city of Sioux Falls also was impressive in its effort, shattering attendance records. It was also a neat experience going to various places and having people know not only about South Dakota State, but the entire Summit League. Every person I talked to had nothing but positive things to say about Oakland, including a group of classy Bison fans I ran into at Buffalo Wild Wings after the championship game.

75-footer eliminates Oakland from CIT
The season has to end at some point and if you can’t win the final game, why not lose on a 75-footer? That was my attempt at trying to be positive. You would have a hard time convincing me Bradley's Chris Roberts got the shot off in 0.9 seconds, but either way it was one heck of a shot and one that will be remembered for a long time to come. Had the shot missed, Oakland might have went on to win the CIT, but we’ll never know. The win over Kent State was also memorable. Oakland came out in a daze, but came out inspired in the second half and dominated. Jones also broke the Summit League single-season assist record in the Kent State win.



Blogger Jeff R said...

It was a good season this year for the Grizzlies but I can't help but feel they didn't reach their potential.

The Grizzlies are a good enough team to start finishing higher then third in the Summit.

If Larry Wright can fill in for Kangas next year as a solid starter and Nelson is healthy, its time for OU to start consistently finishing first or second in the conference.

March 27, 2009 at 8:17 AM 

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