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State hoops notes: OU's Xavier Hill-Mais dons mask, nears perfection

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Oakland's Xavier Hill-Mais is fifth in the nation in scoring.

Move over, Rip Hamilton.

There's another masked man in town — Oakland redshirt junior Xavier Hill-Mais, who suffered a serious nose injury last week at UNLV, got fitted for the protective mask at 8 a.m. Monday in Livonia (by the same man who made the former Pistons star's), and tried on the mask for the first time only an hour before tip-off Monday night.

How was the adjustment period?

Let's just say, it went pretty darn well. Hill-Mais finished a perfect 12-for-12 from the field, and if not for one missed free throw, it would've been the absolutely perfect night in a 91-47 victory over Defiance at the O'rena.

As it was, Hill-Mais set the program record for most field goals with a 1.000 shooting percentage, edging Jason Burkholder, who went 11-for-11 in a game in 1994.

"The first time I put it on, it really wasn't awkward. I put it on, it kind of fit really snug, it wasn't going to be bouncing or moving around on my face," said Hill-Mais, who had to sit for a plaster mold to get the perfect custom fit.

"It isn't really a distraction. It did affect me one time — when the sweat underneath the mask started to get to me. I just have to wipe that during media timeouts."

Oakland doctors don't believe Hill-Mais' nose is broken, but there is damage, and he'll have to deal with it all season. So the mask is staying put.

Given the 30 points he scored against Defiance, that might not be such a bad thing.

He was 3-for-4 on free throws, missing the first one.

That's another time the mask came into play. He wasn't sure whether to push the mask to the top of his head for free throws. On the first one, he decided to, but he missed. He said the strap pinched his ears, and distracted him. So, from there, he got his answer. Moving forward, the mask stays down.

He made his final free throws, and is averaging 26.5 points through four games for the Golden Grizzlies. That's fifth in Division I, for a guy who didn't play last season. Coach Greg Kampe and Hill-Mais decided with so many redshirt senior scorers, his time would be limited, so perhaps a redshirt would be best.

Even when Oakland started piling up the injuries, they stuck to the plan, even though it would've been understandable to panic, pull the plug and get Hill-Mais back in action.

"Yeah, Kampe, he makes a decision and sticks by it," said Hill-Mais, who agreed with the decision. "We really didn't revisit it once guys started getting hurt. We just agreed, I'm still sitting.

"In the beginning, it was really hard to just sit there," added Hill-Mais, a 6-foot-7, 248-pound forward who played in all 34 games his sophomore season. "As the season went on, the feeling kind of went away. I was starting to enjoy watching my team play, even though there were some games in nonconference I really wanted to participate in."

Hill-Mais scored 30 in the opener against Toledo, 17 against Western Michigan, then 29 in just 22 minutes against UNLV. Those were all losses. Oakland finally got on the board against Defiance, a Division III school out of Ohio. It's been a rough start for the Golden Grizzlies, but not a surprising one, given all the talent they lost. They were picked to finish fourth of the 10 teams in the Horizon League.

There's a pretty strong feeling inside the walls of the O'rena that the Golden Grizzlies could eventually surprise some opponents this season — with now-healthy Brad Brechting and Jaevin Cumberland, Eastern Michigan transfer Jordan Nobles and freshman Tray Maddox from Novi, among others — but it'll take time for things to mesh.

It also will take time to understand what's expected from Kampe, who played just seven players in the win over Defiance because several players didn't reach their minimum number of study hours for the previous week.

They tested Kampe, and they lost.

"They're always going to lose," said Kampe, who insisted he would've sat the players even if the opponent was Michigan State.

Oakland will get a better idea of what it has during this week's holiday tournament in Rochester, with games against James Madison, Oral Roberts and Northern Illinois, followed by upcoming trips to Xavier, Northeastern, Georgia and Michigan State.

Oakland men's basksetball held its first-ever Pride Night on Monday.

Slam dunks

►Michigan senior center Hallie Thome and Central Michigan senior guard Presley Hudson are among 35 candidates for the Wade Trophy, which goes to the best player in women's basketball. The list was released by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association on Tuesday. 

It's a big week for Hudson, who was MAC West player of the week after averaging 29 points in last week's games, a loss to South Dakota State and a win over Western Kentucky. Her 28-point average is third in the nation.

►For a second consecutive season, the Central Michigan men won an early season tournament, winning the Junkanoo Jam in the Bahamas, after winning the final Great Alaska Shootout a year ago. The Chippewas were paced by Larry Austin, a graduate-transfer guard from Vanderbilt who was named tournament MVP after averaging 19.7 points in the three games. That also earned him MAC West player of the week.

►Eastern Michigan redshirt senior guard Danielle Minott is posting some well-rounded numbers, as one of eight players in Division I to be averaging at least 9.5 points, nine rebounds, 4.5 assists and 3.5 steals.

►Oakland women announced its 2019 recruiting class, and it includes East Kentwood guard Alona Blackwell, Ohio guard Breanne Beatty, and Illinois guard Sydney Gouard.

►Schoolcraft men, off to a 5-0 start, are a team to keep an eye on, given it works with a roster of eight total players.

►Defending Division II men's champ Ferris State is off to a 5-1 start, and is ranked 14th.

►Michigan State women's coach Suzy Merchant will receive the 2018 ATHENA Leadership award, presented by the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Player of the week

Antoine Davis, Fr., guard, Detroit Mercy: He was last week's freshman of the week, and as hard as I'll try to be balanced here, his name is going to be a mainstay either here or in the other category. The son of new head coach Mike Davis, he scored 42 in his father's first win at Detroit Mercy, 91-63 over Loyola (Md.) at Calihan Hall on Monday. The 42 points is a Detroit Mercy freshman record, and the most scored by any Titan since Willie Green scored 43 in a game in 2003. It's the sixth-most in school history. Davis, who originally committed to Houston, was averaging 31 points, second in Division I, heading into Tuesday night's game against Bowling Green. His only "down" game was the 20-pointer against Butler, and he was sick all that week, and not able to practice.

Freshman of the week

Ignas Brazdeikis, forward, Michigan: There was some skepticism about the reigning national runners-up heading into this season, but not anymore, not after its demolition of Villanova and pretty much everybody else on the early season slate. A really big reason, this big fella, the 6-foot-7 dynamo from Canada who scored 18 in the sunning rout of Villanova while shutting down the Wildcats' top offensive threat, Eric Paschall, and then added 20 points against Providence.

Stat of the week

►I mean, where do we start with the debacle that was Eastern Michigan's 63-36 loss at Rutgers on Monday night? The Eagles were held to an NCAA-record four points in the opening half, when they were 2-for-25 shooting, and 0-for-7 on free throws. (The Eastern football team managed more first-half points — 10 — in its game at Rutgers last season.) Give Eastern some credit for playing Rutgers to a 32-32 tie in the second half, but it still was an embarrassing defeat for an Eagles team that was picked to win the West Division in the Mid-American Conference, and only was a 4.5-point underdog entering the Rutgers game. This comes after Eastern managed a mere 13 first-half points in an 84-46 loss to top-ranked Duke, but that's Duke. This was Rutgers.

Quote of the week

“We really needed an identity as a defensive team. We took a step forward in that category today.”

— Geo Baker, Rutgers player, on the performance against Eastern Michigan.

State power rankings


1. Michigan, 5-0 (last week: 1)

2. Michigan State, 3-1 (2)

3. Central Michigan, 4-1 (6)

4. Western Michigan, 3-2 (3)

5. Eastern Michigan, 4-2 (4)

6. Detroit Mercy, 1-3 (7)

7. Oakland, 1-3 (5)


1. Central Michigan, 2-1 (1)

2. Michigan, 3-0 (2)

3. Michigan State, 3-0 (3)

4. Eastern Michigan 2-0 (4)

5. Western Michigan, 1-3 (5)

6. Oakland, 1-4 (6)

7. Detroit Mercy, 1-4 (7)

This week's top games

Thursday: (Men) Michigan State vs. UCLA, in Las Vegas, 10 p.m. (FS1)

Friday: (Men) Michigan State vs. Northern Carolina or Texas, in Las Vegas, 4 or 6:30 p.m. (Fox)

Friday: (Women) Michigan vs. Missouri, in Estero, Fla., 7:30 p.m.

Saturday: (Men) Detroit Mercy at Eastern Michigan, 2 p.m.

Saturday: (Women) Central Michigan at Virginia, 2 p.m.

Tuesday, Nov. 27: (Men) Michigan State at Louisville, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Wednesday, Nov. 28: (Men) Northern Carolina at Michigan, 9 p.m. (ESPN)

Tweet of the week

For a second week in a row ... Poor, Eastern Michigan.

Twitter: @tonypaul1984