Late 3 adds to Oakland's misery, Horizon chapter in Detroit closes with defeat
Detroit — There wasn't a team in the Horizon League more looking forward to the postseason tournament arriving in Detroit than Oakland.
And now there probably isn't a team in the league more looking forward to it leaving Detroit.
Horizon League player of the year Drew McDonald hit a 3-pointer with less than 4 seconds left to lift Northern Kentucky to the 64-63 victory over Oakland on Monday night at Little Caesars Arena.
The shot silenced a lively crowd that was on its feet after watching the Golden Grizzlies storm back with a 13-0 run to take a two-point lead with less than 10 seconds remaining.
"You leave the player of the year open ..." Oakland coach Greg Kampe said, smirking and shaking his head as the sentence trailed off. "I used my last timeout to go over it so we didn't make a mistake, and we did. And that's what frustrates me.
"The basketball gods haven't been too good to us in Detroit."
Northern Kentucky (25-8), the second seed, advances to the championship game to meet top-seeded Wright State (66-54) at 7 Tuesday night. Wright State beat Green Bay, 66-54, in the earlier game Monday.
Oakland finishes the season, considered a rebuilding one, with a 16-17 record.
Oakland concludes the Horizon League tournament's four-year run in Detroit with a whole lot of heartache.
Monday's stunner was the second time in the four-year run that the Golden Grizzlies lost on a last-second shot, including as the top seed to No. 9 Youngstown State two years ago. Oakland never made a championship game in Detroit, and finished 1-4 in five games in the Motor City.
"It didn't go too good here in Detroit for us," Kampe said.
Next year, the Horizon League moves the tournaments, men's and women's, to Indianapolis.
Redshirt junior guard Jaevin Cumberland led Oakland with 27 points, including 7-for-14 on 3-pointers — two of those makes coming late as the Golden Grizzlies stormed back from down 11 with 4:07 left. Freshman guard Tray Maddox hit the other 3-pointer, and then Cumberland also made two free throws to give Oakland the 63-61 lead with under 10 seconds to go.
Oakland's defense, meanwhile, held Northern Kentucky scoreless for better than four minutes.
Until McDonald threw up the shot with 4 seconds to go.
A leaping Cumberland missed by the slimmest of margins, getting a hand on the ball as McDonald let it go.
"When I let it go, that's about when I knew it was in," McDonald said. "If you could have paused it in time, I could have told you right then it was in."
McDonald's shot capped a huge second half, after he struggled at times in the first half.
The senior standout finished with a team-high 18 points and 11 rebounds, and five assists.
Redshirt junior Xavier Hill-Mais added 11 points and 14 rebounds for Oakland, and senior center Brad Brechting had 10 rebounds but couldn't get anything going offensively.
Brechting, who came in on a streak of 10 straight games with double-digit points, was limited to seven shots, he only made two, and Oakland was outscored in the paint, 40-14.
The game was tied at 37 at the half, but it shouldn't have been.
Oakland stormed to the early lead, up 17 halfway through the first half. The Golden Grizzlies were threatening to run the Norse right out of the gym — but several empty possessions, most their own doing (Oakland finished with 18 turnovers, to its opponent's nine), opened the door wide for Northern Kentucky, and it took full advantage.
"I think we panicked on offense," said Kampe, who declined to call timeout during the slide, saying with all the media timeouts, that's just never been his style.
And the second half didn't start a whole lot better.
Northern Kentucky took its first lead at the 16:19 mark in the second half, and then never trailed again until Cumberland's free throws.
That Oakland lead didn't last long, adding one more chapter to the ghoulish tale that has been Oakland's performance these last four years in Detroit.
Redshirt sophomore Jalen Tate had 14 points, and junior Tyler Sharpe 10 for Northern Kentucky, which will try for its second title in three years — while Wright State will go for back-to-back crowns.
Meanwhile, it's a bitter end to an up-and-down year for Oakland, which takes solace in knowing its stable of young players improved down the stretch — and entered Monday's game on a five-game winning streak.
"Obviously, it's disappointing," Hill-Mais said. "Our guys fought back really hard, and we made some great plays, but he threw in that last-second shot.
"There's not really much to say."