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Did Oakland men's basketball just secure the most significant victory in program history?

There's certainly an argument to be made.

"I don't know if it's the best win," coach Greg Kampe said Tuesday night from Clemson, S.C. "But it's definitely top three.
"Certainly, the one over Michigan (in 2000 would be No. 1). Then I'd have to think about it."

In any event, Oakland's 74-69 victory at Clemson in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament was a stunner, not just because the Golden Grizzlies knocked off another Power Five opponent, but how they did it.

BOX SCORE: Oakland 74, Clemson 69

Most notably, Oakland rallied from a 19-point halftime deficit, and 20-point deficit early in the second half.

And Oakland did much of it without star junior forward Jalen Hayes, who went down in the first half from a gruesome scene. He got knocked in the teeth, which went through his lip, making for a severely bloody show as he lay on the court.

Hayes was taken to the hospital, where he was seeing a dentist Tuesday night. The team planned to stay overnight, and return to Michigan late Wednesday afternoon.

"It was really gruesome," Kampe said of the Hayes incident.

This is the first trip to the NIT for Oakland, which won the Horizon League regular-season championship and was favored to win the conference tournament and make the NCAA Tournament.

But top-seeded Oakland was stunned in its first game by No. 9 Youngstown State at Joe Louis Arena.

Before you ask, no, this win doesn't make up for that loss.

"Oh no, definitely not," said the team's lone senior, Sherron Dorsey-Walker. "But that's behind us. We're just looking forward.

"We're happy with the win."

Oakland (25-8) is one victory away from matching the most in school history, a record set by the 2009-10 team that went to the NCAA Tournament. Oakland has been to three Division I NCAA Tournaments, but never won a game, making the case for Tuesday's win to be the biggest in program history.

Next up is a trip to sixth-seeded Richmond (21-12), a 71-64 winner over No. 3 Alabama later Tuesday. That game will be this weekend, with a time and exact day still to be announced.

Junior Martez Walker scored 23 to lead Oakland, and Dorsey-Walker added 21.

The win was particularly sweet for Dorsey-Walker, who doesn't want his career to end.

"Last week, losing to the ninth seed was devastating," Dorsey-Walker said of the buzzer-beating loss to a Youngstown State team Oakland had smoked twice in the regular season. "I feel like we just needed some time to rethink things.

"Today, we were faced with more adversity, and I feel like we responded well."

Clemson (17-16) led, 43-24, at halftime, making a buzzer-beating 3 heading to the locker room.

In that locker room, Kampe had his say.

And you bet, it was loud and heard.

"Not pretty," Kampe said. "I have not done that to this team all year, because I love this team and I really thought they are a team that got it and understand, and had a lot of pride on defense.

"With six minutes to go in that half, we just rolled over and said, 'Oh, well, Jalen's out ...'"

With about 17 minutes left in the second half, Kampe called the team together and said if it could get the deficit to 10 or less with 10 minutes left, then Oakland would win.

His confidence came from a Clemson season in which the Tigers lost several close games, including to Xavier, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Virginia, Duke, Miami, Florida State and Virginia Tech, all NCAA Tournament teams.

Clemson hasn't been able to finish, and the Tigers didn't finish Tuesday either.

"We got it to 13," said Kampe, "and then 13 to nothing in what felt like two seconds."

A 12-0 run put Oakland up, 63-61, capping a spectacular four-minute run. That was the Golden Grizzlies first lead since it was 15-13 midway through the first half.

Clemson tied it, but Martez Walker hit a 3 with 3:29 to spark another Oakland run.

For the game, Oakland finished on a 23-8 run over the final 9:39.

Freshman Isaiah Brock had 12 rebounds for the Golden Grizzlies.

Jaron Blossomgame led Clemson with 24 points, and Sidy Djitte had 13 rebounds.

"I said all year, this was a team that's good enough to go to the NCAAs and good enough to win games in the NCAAs," Kampe said after the program's 11th victory over a Power-Five team since Oakland joined Division I full-time in 1999-2000. "I think this justifies what we were saying. It justified what we were talking about.

"We missed that opportunity (in the Horizon League tournament), there's no way this makes for that. But the NIT is a prestigious tournament."

tpaul@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/tonypaul1984

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