Oakland misses mark, falls short in Horizon semis

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Kay Felder

Detroit — The Horizon League got its wish — and then it didn't.

There were two wildly thrilling games Monday night, but both top seeds are one-and-gone, including Oakland in a 59-55 heartbreaker to Wright State in the semifinals at Joe Louis Arena.

Earlier, Green Bay beat regular-season champion Valparaiso, 99-92, in overtime, only after Valpo had tied the game at the end of regulation on a full-court inbounds pass and layup.

Wright State (22-12) and Green Bay (21-11) will play for the championship and the automatic NCAA Tournament bid at 7 p.m. Tuesday. It'll be televised on ESPN.

"So much for the double-bye," Oakland coach Greg Kampe said. "If the double-bye's so great, I don't think Valpo and Oakland think it's so great right now.

"We had the lead and the ball with two minutes to go. You've gotta finish. We didn't do it."

Oakland (21-11) rallied from a 10-point second-half deficit to take the lead down the stretch, on a pair of free throws by Kay Felder with 1 minute, 52 seconds left.

Then Oakland got a stop on the other end, and Jalen Hayes grabbed one of his 10 rebounds. But then came a pivotal mistake, with the ball being passed to a freshman, Xavier Hill-Mais, 10 feet from the basket. Hill-Mais had played a tremendous game, especially on defense, but he turned the ball over.

Kampe lamented not calling timeout there.

Wright State's Biggie Minnis followed with a jumper to retake the lead, 55-54, with just under a minute left.

Oakland did call the timeout there, and called up yet another play for Felder, who got fouled and made his first free throw -- but missed his second to leave the game tied at 55.

"He had a stretch this year where he made 50 in a row," Kampe said, of Felder getting to the free-throw line. "That's what you want."

But after a rare split, J.T. Yoho — sorely missed after he picked up a third foul early in the second half — drained a jumper for Wright State.

Felder, on the other end, drove to the lane and got a great look at the layup, but it rolled around the rim and out — eerily similar to the miss earlier this season when a make would've beaten then-No. 1-ranked Michigan State.

Wright State's Mark Alstork made both free throws with 10 seconds left, capping off an 18-point performance, to send Oakland packing.

The Raiders came out with the game plan to drastically slow the high-octane Grizzlies' tempo, holding the ball for 20 or 25 seconds most possessions, and it worked. In two previous meetings this season, Oakland had scored 40 points or more in each of the four halves to win both games. It had 25 at halftime.

"We had to make shots late in the shot clock," Wright State coach Billy Donlon said. "We needed it go right that way, and for the most part it did."

Said Yoho: "They're used to scoring 80-89 points. When they got (25) in a half, those shots got a lot more pressure on them."

The game saw nine lead changes, most in the second half, when the Grizzlies (21-11) played some much more inspired defense, holding the Raiders without a point for an 8-minute, 10-second stretch to claw back into the game — nine possessions in all.

The problem was, Oakland missed seven shots during that stretch, too, and only led by one when Yoho snapped it with a jumper, for two of his 15 points.

"We did half the job," Hayes said. "We just weren't able to do the other half."

Felder, a national player-of-the-year candidate, made his first four shots of the second half, after going 1-for-9 in the first half. But Felder missed his last six field-goal attempts as Oakland now must wait to see if it gets an invitation to the NIT.

Felder finished with 18 points on 5-for-19 shooting, but had only four assists, all in the first half. It was a sour end to a special season for the junior star, who is said to be leaning toward returning for a senior season.

"Personally, I wouldn't trade this (team) for nothing in the world," Felder said. "Man, there's a big smile on my face, even though you can't see it."

Jalen Hayes had 14 points for Oakland. Max Hooper, playing two days after his father, Chip, died of cancer, had nine points, on 3-for-5 from 3-point range.

A moment of silence was held for Chip Hooper before the game, with a photo of Chip and a young Max on the video board, and Max came off the

bench and drained his first three 3s — to raucous roars from the crowd of 6,557. That attendance likely will take a hit Tuesday night, with Detroit and, now Oakland, out of the tournament.

Wright State limited, drastically, the open space Felder and Hooper had in the first half, and led, 33-25, at the break.

A day after Donlon blasted the Horizon League for giving the top two seeds double-byes and making the third seed, in this case the Raiders, have to win four games in four days, Nos. 1 and 2 are gone.

Daniel Mortensen scored 11 for Wright State.

Meanwhile, Percy Gibson and Martez Walker, who averaged double-figures in the regular season, were held to nine points between them for Oakland. The 55 points were the fewest Oakland has scored this season.

"We didn't make the plays in the last minute we had to make to win a game," said Kampe, whose season will be remembered for a road victory over Washington, a near-miss against Michigan State, a tough showing at Virginia and two victories over chief rival, Detroit. "I'm very proud of my team. I really, really enjoyed this team and it was a great year for us.

"You feel bad when you lose, you feel bad when you lose in this situation. But I'm very proud of them."