Detroit — Nick Daniels pounded his fist on a courtside table as he walked briskly into the tunnel. Greg Kampe stood, frozen for a moment, both hands behind his head, before leaving the arena floor. In the press room, Martez Walker started to speak, but nothing came out; he then hung his head and started to cry.
That's the story for Oakland, which for a second consecutive year was upset, big-time, in its opening game of the Horizon League tournament.
With 3.3 seconds left, Youngstown State's Cameron Morse caught an inbounds pass and looked to take his 29th and final shot of the night — until he saw 7-foot teammate Jordan Kaufman under the basket.
In mid-air, Morse flicked it to Kaufman, who laid it in just before the buzzer as eighth-seeded Youngstown State shocked top-seeded Oakland, 81-80, at Joe Louis Arena on Saturday night.
The play was reviewed and quickly confirmed, as Oakland joined Detroit Mercy in the early exit bin, a horrific development for a conference that can probably stop printing any more championship-game tickets.
Last year, Oakland, the No. 2 seed, was upset by Wright State in its opening game.
"In the aftermath, now you realize people are gonna be upset and they're not gonna be happy," Oakland coach Greg Kampe said, softly, in a cleared-out locker room.
"And they're gonna say, two years in a row, or four years in a row now, we haven't won in the league tournament, and we've struggled to win in the league tournament. And we have since we've been in the Horizon League. We haven't won.
"They can come after me, and I deserve it. For me, that's not what I worry about. I worry about these kids."
Oakland (24-8) has played in three Horizon League tournaments, since jumping from the Summit League, and has only won one tournament game, as a 6 seed its first year. It's lost its four tournament games since.
It's not to be, as Oakland probably will settle for an NIT bid, announced next Sunday.
Meanwhile, Youngstown State (13-20), blown away by Oakland in two regular-season meetings, advances to Monday's semifinal, against either Wright State (20-11) or Northern Kentucky (21-10). Those teams play Sunday.
Oakland coach Greg Kampe met the media following a stunning, 81-80 loss to Youngstown State in the Horizon League tournament at Joe Louis Arena on Saturday night. Tony Paul, The Detroit News
"Honestly," junior forward Jalen Hayes said, "this still doesn't feel real. We put ourselves in a position where we've been successful all year, our goals before the season was just for this moment today.
"We worked all season for this moment today. We came up short."
Hayes had a big game, with 27 points and 13 rebounds, several in pivotal moments down the stretch, but also missed the front end of a one-and-one to give Youngstown State a shot to win it with 11 seconds left.
It was the second costly missed free throw late for Oakland, after senior guard Sherron Dorsey-Walker missed the front end with under three minutes left.
After Hayes' miss, Oakland had fouls to give, and used a couple. It was hoping to run off a bit more clock before Daniels, a junior guard, committed the second, but officials blew a quick whistle.
That gave Youngstown State 3.3 seconds to turn the vibe at Joe Louis Arena into that of a funeral parlor.
All eyes, understandably, were on Morse, a junior guard and former Flint Carman-Ainsworth star. He had scored 34, and was the obvious choice for the last shot. Even he thought so.
"Oh yeah," he said in the underbelly of Joe Louis Arena, a huge smile on his face. "In my head, I told myself, 'No matter what, I'm gonna take this last shot.'"
Defended by Daniels, Morse took one dribble and left his feet — only to see Oakland freshman forward Isaiah Brock, charged with defending the paint, had left his position, leaving Kaufman all alone.
Morse, told by coaches that scenario might develop, didn't hesitate, shoveled it in and Kaufman (22 pounds, 10 rebounds) broke the Golden Grizzlies' hearts.
The celebration was delayed, as officials went to review — delayed, that is, for everyone except Morse.
"I was confident," he said. "I was running around the gym!"
Morse, never recruited by Oakland, scored just 27 points total in the first two meetings this season, but made tough shot after tough shot Saturday night. If he took a shot that wasn't heavily contested, nobody can remember it.
Hayes led Oakland, searching for its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2010-11, with 27 points, including a huge little baby hook with 46 seconds left to put the Golden Grizzlies up one.
Morse then missed a 3-pointer at the other end, and Hayes got the rebound, putting Oakland in great position. But the ball was knocked away by Youngstown State, setting up an inbounds, and Dorsey-Walker threw wild and turned it over.
That allowed Youngstown State — which had been outscored a combined 191-148 in the first two meetings, and outrebounded, 99-62 — the opportunity to take the last shot, if it wanted. Morse shot early, and missed, then got his rebound, and missed again. That's when Hayes got another rebound, and was fouled.
"We played hard, we wanted it, we weren't overconfident, we weren't anything, we came to play," said Kampe, whose team trailed by 10 in the first half, but clawed its way back to lead by one at the break. "When it came time to play, we made a couple mistakes. A freshman made a big mistake leaving the basket."
Brock finished with 14 rebounds while mixing it up all night with Kaufman.
Dorsey-Walker had the big game, with 28 points, in the regular-season finale against Milwaukee, knowing Valpo had lost earlier in the day — and knowing a win would clinch a league championship for Oakland.
Dorsey-Walker and Oakland had hoped it would be the first of two championships. But no. It's one, and done, again.
"My heart's broken for Sherron," Kampe said; Dorsey-Walker, who scored 16 Saturday. "He willed us to a championship, a No. 1 seed.
"Last year's over; next year, this will be over. I'm in the moment with this group of kids, and my heart's broken."