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Oakland basketball wins their first outright Horizon League title

The Golden Grizzlies and head coach Greg Kampe were co-Horizon League champions during the 2016-2017 season with Valparaiso but this time Oakland is not sharing the title with another team.

Oakland v Illinois
Oakland v Illinois / Michael Hickey/GettyImages
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Oakland was predicted in the Horizon League preseason poll as the No. 6 team and had only one player Trey Townsend, that was named to the Preseason All-League First Team. However, The Golden Grizzlies with their victory over in-state/in-conference rival Detroit Mercy earned them the Horizon League Regular Season Title outright as well as the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament earning them a first round bye.

The season's ending for Oakland did come as a surprise to many Horizon League observers for multiple reasons. The main reason is that for the first time since the 2019-2020 season, the Golden Grizzlies did not return their leading scorer from the previous season. Jalen Moore who was the leading scorer for Oakland his last two seasons graduated this past season and the Golden Grizzlies from last season also didn't bring back their third leading scorer and second leading rebounder in Keaton Hervey. However, Oakland this season did bring back five key contributors from last season as well as some transfers who played key parts in helping the Golden Grizzlies become league champions.

Another reason the expectations were not very high for the Golden Grizzlies is that they did not bring in a big name transfer this off season. The previous off season they brought in Rocket Watts via Mississippi State/Michigan State, Keaton Hervey via Missouri State, and Lorne Bowman II via Wisconsin. Prior to that Oakland in previous seasons brought in Jamal Cain from Marquette, Jalen Moore from Olney Central College, and Kendrick Nunn from Illinois. However, the Golden Grizzlies brought in transfers that may have not been considered big name transfers but they did have integral parts in contributing to Oakland's success this season.

In recent seasons, Oakland would win key non-conference games but due to injuries and other factors and not be able to win enough games in conference play to win the Horizon League regular season title or win the conference tournament. For example, two seasons ago they won on the road against Oklahoma State and won the Gulf Coast Showcase tournament and were 16-5 before they lost multiple games in conference play and their season ended with a loss to Wright State in the Horizon League tournament.

This season Oakland had put together a roster that Kampe trusted playing nine players ten or more minutes a game. The depth this season allowed the Golden Grizzlies to be more consistent in their play and is a big reason to why Oakland is the 2024 Horizon League Regular Season Champions. The Golden Grizzlies have four players averaging ten or more points as well as ten players who have played significant minutes in 22 or more games. Oakland's second leading scorer Blake Lampman missed eight games this season due to an injury but the Golden Grizzlies with their depth were still able to win enough games with him sidelined to be in first place in the league.

Upperclassmen and senior leadership helped Oakland as well this season achieve their goals of winning the conference. Lampman, Rocket Watts, Chris Conway, and Trey Townsend along with graduate transfer Jack Gohlke provided not just leadership but guidance for the younger players and underclassmen as well as a sense of direction and not panicking on the road and winning close contested games like they did on the road against Wright State and defeating Youngstown State twice.

The Golden Grizzlies may not have won a ton of games but they won games when they needed to. Oakland began the season on the road and played both Ohio State and Illinois tough as they led at halftime against the Buckeyes and they led by three against the Fighting Illini in the second half. However, then they defeated Bowling Green by 19 and won two of their three games in the Cayman Islands Classic with their only loss coming Drake who only has four losses on the season. The big non-conference win came when the Golden Grizzlies went on the road and defeated Xavier. Then after losing two of their first three conference games, Oakland would go on to win six straight conference games. The Golden Grizzlies would go on to finish regular season play winning eight of their last ten games.

Even though the transfers were not big names this off season, they contributed and helped Oakland all season. Gohlke played at division II Hillsdale before coming to OU and he is the Golden Grizzlies third leading scorer. DQ Cole another transfer played a Henry Ford Community College before becoming a Golden Grizzlie and he is Oakland's fifth leading scorer and has played in every game this season. Isaiah Jones a transfer from Detroit Mercy may not jump out on the stat sheet but his 12 points against Green Bay was critical in their win against the Phoenix. Finally, two other transfers Tuburu Naivalurua and Tone Hunter both have averaged ten minutes or more a game for the Golden Grizzlies and have had key roles in developing Oakland's depth this season.

Oakland even in their last regular season game against in-state/in-conference rival Detroit Mercy where they trailed most of the game and was done 35-31 at the half and 52-48 with 11 minutes remaining in the game found a way to grit out a win even though they were not making a good portion of their shots through out the game. On a Conway dunk, Oakland took a 53-52 lead with just under ten minutes remaining in the game. Lampman would then made a three pointer to put the Golden Grizzlies up 56-52 with just under nine minutes remaining in the game. Gohlke then made a three to put Oakland up 59-52 with under eight minutes remaining in the game.

Even when Detroit Mercy cut the Golden Grizzlies lead to three, Jones made two free throws against his former school to make it a 64-59 game with just over six minutes left in the second half. Then the Titans after some free throws got Oakland's lead to only one point with under five minutes remaining in the game. Townsend would then make two free throws to give the Golden Grizzlies a three point lead with around four minutes left in the game.

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Gohlke would make a three with 2:18 remaining in the game to give his team a 70-65 lead. After a made Titans basket that made the score 72-70, Townsend made an and one to give the Golden Grizzlies a 75-70 lead with 17 seconds left in the game and they would end up being the final score.