Detroit — Though Detroit Mercy held a one-game lead over Oakland in the Horizon League standings, the Grizzlies looked like the team to beat on Saturday afternoon at Calihan Hall.
Oakland held off Detroit Mercy, 79-73, to improve to 9-2 against Detroit since joining the Horizon League in 2013-14.
"I’m really pleased," Oakland coach Greg Kampe said. "I thought for 37 minutes we played flawless. Detroit’s a tough team because they play defense different than anyone in our league."
Though a 72-55 lead seemed comfortable for the Grizzlies with just over five minutes left, Mercy (8-11, 5-2 Horizon) pulled within three, 76-73, with about a minute to go. In the end, Oakland overcame late free throw woes to make a big move in the Horizon League standings.
"I screamed at (the team) out of the under-four timeout, 'Only gotta win by 1,'" Kampe said. "And we almost won by one."
Oakland (9-11, 5-2) raced out to a comfortable lead, maintaining it throughout most of the game and held the nation's second-leading scorer, Antoine Davis, in check until the midway mark in the first half.
It wasn't until the nine-minute mark that Davis scored his first basket and finished with 19 points on 7-of-20 shooting.
Oakland's game plan of running man-to-man with a two-man zone at the top to guard Davis worked but Kampe still had high praise for the freshman sensation.
"I wish he was playing for me," Kampe said. "I think he’s a pro. I think he’s the next Horizon player drafted. I hope it’s this year, but I think it’ll be a couple years down the road."
The defense was something Mike Davis had never seen before, admitting that he was surprised with the game plan to guard Antoine.
"I’ve never seen two guys guard one guy the whole game," Davis said. "I thought (Antoine) did good. He missed some shots. I’ve never seen anyone in the country play him the way they did."
Kampe credited a week of preparation for the defensive success.
Davis, on the other hand, wasn't pleased with his team's defense effort and attitude.
"Our defense has been bad for a while," Davis said. "We’re not very good defensively. We went to the zone and we always left someone open. We just don’t have the commitment we need to have from every guy defensively. We don’t have the energy on that end."
Jaevin Cumberland led Oakland with 24 points and Xavier Hill-Mais scored 22 with five rebounds despite not having his best game because he was "too hyped up" per his head coach. After the game, he was all about the big picture.
"It’s a good step in the right direction to win the Horizon League," Hill-Mais said.
The Grizzlies have pulled into a tie for second place in the Horizon, trailing only Northern Kentucky (16-4, 6-1).
For a young team making adjustments throughout the game, Kampe was pleased with what he saw.
"We made some adjustments and for a young team like ours to able to adjust on the fly like that is a very rewarding thing for me as a coach," Kampe said. "It gives us hope for the future."
Kampe is now 3-0 all-time versus Davis, dating back to the latter's days as head coach of Texas Southern.
Mercy's next game is at University of Illinois-Chicago and Oakland travels to IUPUI, both taking place next Thursday.
As for this rivalry, dubbed the Metro Series, it's just heating up.
"(Davis) brings a veteran, established, well-established college basketball coach (to Detroit)," Kampe said. "I wish he stayed in Texas. He’s a great basketball coach. Detroit’s going to be good. They’re going to be good for a long time."
Connor Muldowney in a freelance writer