The Big Picture
The Golden Grizzlies continued their dominance in Summit League play this week with two home victories. On Thursday, the team took down rival Oral Roberts to sweep the season series. In this game we saw Oakland get out to a lead on the backs of Keith Benson and Will Hudson, but it was Reggie Hamilton who sealed the victory late in the second half despite playing questionably earlier in the game. It says a lot about a team and its leadership when any number of players can "take over" to will the squad to a win. Most expected Oakland to blowout Centenary, but the Gents hung tight in the first half. The Golden Grizzlies clamped down on defense in the second half and won it going away in front of a rabid Homecoming crowd. With just three home games left this season, hopefully all of those who witnessed OU over the last few games will be back to pack the O'rena in February.
Oakland's Clutch Junior
With just over four minutes left in the Oakland-Oral Roberts battle, the score was tied at 68. Although Oakland had wrestled the lead from ORU, the Golden Eagles would not go away, and a great three-point play by Dominique Morrison finally evened the game. It looked like this one would go down to the wire just like last year's match, but then Reggie Hamilton went into clutch mode. The junior transfer has done some dazzling things in games this season to prove that he is the one player on this squad who can create his own shot above all others. Prior to these waning minutes, Hamilton was having an up-and-down game; for every assist he had, he would have a turnover on the next possession. But as Coach Kampe described after the game, he more or less lit a fire in Hamilton during a timeout in the stretch run, and Hamilton responded with some fire of his own.
From that four minute mark until the end of the game, Hamilton had an impact on almost every single possession in a variety of different ways:
- He buried two three-pointers, one wide open from a great pass by Drew Valentine to spark the run and another that was contested with a minute left in the game.
- On the defensive end, Benson's block led to a fastbreak opportunity where Hamilton's court vision allowed him to make a pass from half-court to Valentine who subsequently got the basket and the foul.
- In a game where Hamilton had six steals, none were more important than when he picked Warren Niles' pocket, leading to a fastbreak lay-up.
- Finally, Reggie drilled five of six free throws in the final 40 seconds of the game.
He had one defensive lapse when his man, Ken Holdman, hit a corner three to make the game closer than it really was, but Reggie subsequently knocked down four straight free throws to seal the game. In sum, he got it done at the stripe, beyond the arc, on the drive, through his defense, and with his passing. He's still rather turnover prone, but at the end of a game, there is no one on this team who has proven he can do more things with the ball in his hands than Reggie Hamilton. That's the kind of player who will come in handy in March.
The game on Saturday marked Oakland's third annual Homecoming, an event typically held during the last week of January or first week of February (depending on how the conference schedule shakes out). It has largely been a successful promotion that has triggered very large attendance figures for the O'rena. Here they are for the past three seasons:
Year 1 (2/7/09): 3,855 (opponent: Centenary)
Year 2 (2/6/10): 4,034 (opponent: Oral Roberts)
Year 3 (1/29/11): 3,675 (opponent: Centenary)
It's hard to say definitively whether or not the slight decrease in attendance this year was due to lack of a quality opponent or something else. The weekends don't exactly line-up, and then there's always the "it's the economy" line. Still, 3,675 is a great number for a game against a team that won't even be in Division I next season. One area that looked to be unaffected by the year was the student section! They looked like a formidable bunch on this evening, furthering a tradition several years in the making. Here's to hoping that the Homecoming crowds continue to grow with each year.
In one of the more interesting reads of the season, Paul Kampe of The Oakland Press was able to recount the rise of Keith Benson at Oakland University. (Seriously, read it). The feature contains a lot of great insights into how Benson worked his way into the player he has become today from the center himself, Coach Kampe, and even his high school coach. In reading the piece, I found one of the small details at the beginning of the article about Kito's recruitment to be rather interesting. The article notes that Benson was actually on his way to play at Fairfield University, a Division I program out of the MAAC. Fortunately for OU fans, that never came to fruition, but can you imagine?
Somewhere in an alternate universe, perhaps things end up working out in Fairfield's favor. Assuming the team decides to redshirt Kito in 2006-07, that would leave him as a senior star on a Fairfield team that is currently 9-1 in MAAC play. But would he have ever been "discovered" while buried in the northeast in a league that has been dominated by another program (Siena) over the past four years? Would he be drawing dozens of NBA scouts to Connecticut to watch Stags games over those of the Huskies? Does he even lead the MAAC in rebounding, or does that honor stick with Ryan Rossiter? So many "could ofs" exist in this alternate realty, but the only realty that matters is that Benson chose to come to Oakland, a place where he has helped to build a "monster" of a program.
For the second straight week we've seen Benson inflict some fastbreak damage on opposing teams. Last week, he ran the ball up the court after a devastating block which led to a Drew Valentine three-pointer. Against Oral Roberts, Kito again runs the ball up but this time he got the basket on an alley-oop pass from Travis Bader. You can check it out here. Seriously, how many other 6'11" centers out there can run the court like Benson? Amazing, every time.
"Free Ilija" Watch
Ilija did his best in limited time this week, notching four total rebounds between the two games. He missed two free throws against Centenary that could have beefed up his points total, but he did also have two assists in helping to get his teammates involved. Perhaps most importantly, Ilija did not have a single foul in two games this week.
Non-Keith Benson Stud Of The Week: Travis Bader
A weekly shoutout to the best Golden Grizzly not named Keith Benson.
Since conference play resumed in earnest at the end of December, Travis Bader is averaging a solid 14.6 points per game. While most of his points do come from beyond the arc, we've seen the redshirt freshman become involved in other aspects of the game as his playing time has grown over the last month. In addition to his eight three-pointers against ORU and Centenary, Bader accumulated seven rebounds, four assists to zero turnovers, and four steals - including this stellar one that led to a fastbreak lay-up. Over the course of the conference season, the shooting guard's confidence has grown, and he's hit a number of clutch shots as a result. Oh, and the dude is stone cold...
Top Play Of The Week
The biggest plays of the week, or at least the ones that got the crowd the most amped, came on transition buckets against Oral Roberts. This one, though, was unexpected: Will Hudson rushes to the perimeter to get a hand in the face of the shooting Warren Niles and somehow manages to stuff Niles. The block itself was magnificent, but watch what happens after:
The team will hit the road for games at Western Illinois and IUPUI. The former is against a depleted team that has won just two conference games all season, while the latter is versus the last team to beat Oakland in a conference game. Neither will be taken lightly, but the game to watch is definitely the one against the Jaguars. Not only are the Jags competing for that second seed, but they'll also be playing in front of a larger crowd at Conseco Fieldhouse, the home of the Indiana Pacers.