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Jalen Hayes had been on a liquid diet for more than three days, so when he got to eat solids again for lunch Saturday, it was heaven.

Even if it was just some chicken and fries.

“I had to chop my food up and cut it all into little pieces,” Hayes said, laughing. “Man, it was wonderful.

“It took so long to eat, though. Took an hour to get it all down.”

Hayes, a junior forward at Oakland, has been in and out of the dentists office for the last several days, after a player fell on the back of his head during Tuesday night’s National Invitation Tournament game at Clemson.

The force was so powerful, Hayes wasn’t only spurting blood like a busted faucet — the Clemson trainer later told him there was a tooth dent on the court at Littlejohn Coliseum.

“I gotta go back,” Hayes said, “and see it sometime.”

For now, Hayes has turned his attention to Oakland’s second-round NIT game, set for 7:30 Sunday night at Richmond (ESPN, 1130).

Oakland coach Greg Kampe this week called Hayes “50-50” to play in the game, but Hayes made it clear he’s ready to go.

That’s good news for the Golden Grizzlies, who stunningly rallied from a 19-point halftime deficit at Clemson despite playing much of the game without Hayes, their second-leading scorer (15.8 points) and leading rebounder (8.0).

Hayes left the arena for the hospital in the first half Tuesday, with his team reeling big-time. Oakland trailed by 20 early in the second half. Hayes returned to the arena with about 2 minutes left, and was stunned at the scoreboard’s story: a 74-69 Oakland victory.

“I was honestly shocked,” Hayes said Saturday, over the phone from Richmond. “How much we were losing by, I came back out, we were up. What happened?”

Oakland (25-8) needs one more win to tie the program record for wins in a season, and two more to get to the semifinals at Madison Square Garden.

It won’t be easy, not Sunday at Robins Center against the Atlantic 10’s Richmond (21-12) and its four-guard set.

Richmond also has a big that can shoot the 3-pointers, which could draw freshman forward Isaiah Brock to the perimeter, limiting his abilities in the paint.

Still, this is a Golden Grizzlies team that long has believed it could win big games this season, and that means NCAA Tournament games. Those hopes were dashed in an upset loss to Youngstown State in the Horizon League tournament, but there’s plenty left to prove.

“We can’t change that, we’re focused on winning as many more games as we can,” Hayes said. “We want the last one to be in the mecca of college basketball (Madison Square Garden), as Coach Kampe would call it.”

Hayes probably would call it the same thing, at least now.

He wasn’t interested in doing too much talking earlier in the week.

After returning to Rochester on Wednesday, he had multiple dentist appointments to check out his two front teeth — they had shifted, cutting into his lip — and had a wire put in to protect the front five teeth. The hope is that they will mold back into place over time.

If not, he’ll get braces, something he never had as a kid.

“I wanted them anyway,” Hayes said, laughing. “So this is perfect.”

With that, Hayes and the rest of his Oakland teammates were off to dinner — for his second meal of the day.

Actually, it was his second real meal in four days.

So, where to?

“I’m not sure,” Hayes said. “We might plan it around what I can eat, and what I can’t.”

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter.com: @tonypaul1984

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