Detroit — Oakland coach Greg Kampe said it best this past week. It’s the fans who will be the winners on Saturday when Oakland and Detroit meet for the first time in over 10 years.
Kampe underscored his team’s impressive comeback victory over the Titans as he gave more props to the 6,976 fans who made their way into Calihan Hall than he did to his 10 players.
Oakland’s 77-69 victory over Detroit was a big win for a team that struggled mightily from the field three days ago in its 85-76 loss at home to Milwaukee.
Oakland (7-12) is now 2-2 in the Horizon League and can feel good knowing it beat a team that traditionally plays well at home.
“This is meaningful for Oakland,” Kampe said. “It’s not important who won. We played in a number of NCAA Tournament games and today I received over 100 texts wishing me good luck.
“I’ve seen Cincinnati-Xavier games and Michigan-Michigan State games close up. I want this (rivalry) to be like those. Meaningful is a big word. This was meaningful.”
The crowd was the third largest at Calihan Hall since 1999-2000. On Feb. 23, 2002, 7,127 came to see the Titans play Milwaukee. On Feb. 18, 2001, 7,231 attended the Cleveland State game.
The moment wasn’t lost on Detroit, coach Ray McCallum and his players, but the loss, losing a 12-point, second-half lead, was a blow to the stomach.
“It was a lot of excitement in the gym,” Titan senior Evan Bruinsma said. “It was a good environment. It was a tough loss as players.
“We’ve played a lot of good teams this year. We went to Connecticut and got blown out. We lost to a good Toledo team on the road. The guys have taken away a lot from those experiences. Now we got to get some wins.”
Detroit (8-10, 1-2) led 33-25 at halftime and took its largest lead, 59-47, on a basket by Ugochukwu Njoku with 8:24 remaining.
That’s when the tide turned. Kahlil Felder made a free throw to trim the deficit to 11 and after a Detroit turnover there was the mandatory media timeout with 7:53 left.
“We went to a full-court (defense) and got a turnover,” Kampe said. “I told the guys I’m done yelling at them. As you know that’s how I coach. I yell. I told them let’s play. Let’s pick up the pressure.”
Dante Williams’ 3-pointer got Oakland to within 59-51 and after another Kjoku basket Oakland scored the next 10 with Felder’s 3-point play ending the run and tying the score at 61 with 5:52 left.
The game went back-and-forth over the next two minutes with Oakland’s Duke Mondy tying the score at 68 with a 3-pointer with 2:31 remaining.
Williams made one of the biggest plays of the game as he rebounded a Mondy 3-point attempt and passed to Travis Bader, who made his fourth 3-pointer to give Oakland a 71-68 lead with 1:38 left.
Mondy had a putback and four free throws in the final 28 seconds to put the game away.
“We knew they’d make a run,” McCallum said. “They’re a second-half team. Your defense has to hold them even though we weren’t making shots. They made some timely 3s and that changed the game.
“It was a great crowd and brought a lot of attention to Detroit basketball. This is the way it should be. I’m pleased with the attention that was put on our program.”
Corey Petros led Oakland with 23 points and 13 rebounds. Mondy had 18 points, Bader added 14 and Felder had 12 points, seven rebounds and six assists.
Juwan Howard topped Detroit with 15 points, Bruinsma had 14 and Matthew Grant 12.
Oakland did not commit a turnover in the second half (11 for the game) and Detroit shot 57.1 percent from the field in the second half yet scored just 36 points.
The rematch is Feb. 14 at Oakland.