Detroit — The Oakland Golden Grizzlies needed a hero. On Friday night in enemy territory, they got one in sophomore guard Rashad Williams.
The Detroit native scored a career-high 37 while going 7-for-16 on 3-pointers and 14-for-15 from the free-throw line as Oakland toppled top-rival Detroit Mercy at Calihan Hall, 77-64.
"My teammates did a hell of a job getting me the ball, keeping my confidence pretty high," Williams said. "They passed the ball to me when I was open in my spots, and I was able to knock them down."
It was just the fifth game of the season for Williams, and despite what Friday's performance would suggest, it hasn't been the smoothest of transitions for the transfer from Cleveland State. Williams, whose waiver was granted on Jan. 16, averaged just 13.5 points on .289 shooting while the Golden Grizzlies spiraled to four straight losses and a 2-7 record in the Horizon League during that span.
"I've never inserted a player, especially a dynamic player like Rashad, in the middle of January, to a lineup before," Oakland head coach Greg Kampe said. "I didn't know if it was going to go great or if it was going to blow everything, and it appeared that it was starting to blow everything.
"We needed him to have a big game so that everybody accepted it and got some confidence, and we got that today."
Xavier Hill-Mais had 12 points and nine rebounds, Brad Brechting 11 points and 12 rebounds and Daniel Oladapo 10 points and nine rebounds for Oakland (8-15, 3-7 Horizon League).
Antoine Davis scored a team-high 26 with six assists and Justin Miller added 15 points for Detroit Mercy (6-17, 4-6).
Oakland's win was the seventh straight over Detroit Mercy and fourth over the Titans since head coach Mike Davis was hired in June 2018.
"Man, I love the way you put that question," Kampe said to a reporter who asked about the reason Oakland "keeps smacking them every year."
"That word 'smack' is a nice word. ... It's an important game for Oakland, it always will be. It's an important game for our fan base, and we will always put everything we have into this game as long as I'm the coach at Oakland.
"Some people are hoping that's only a couple more days, but I'm working on it."
Davis did not show up to his postgame press conference; his son, assistant coach Mike Davis Jr., arrived in his place nearly 90 minutes after the final buzzer.
"Oakland's been struggling more than we're struggling, but yet, when we see them, we don't even come out and fight," the younger Davis said. "They got a mental edge. I don't know what it is about it."
Starting Oakland guard Tray Maddox Jr. left the game at halftime with a concussion, Kampe said.
Oakland opened the game on an 8-0 run. Detroit Mercy missed its first five shots before Miller got the Titans on the board with a field goal in the paint.
Kampe was given a technical foul 5:31 into the game for something that was yelled while arguing that Antoine Davis should have been called for a travel. Davis hit both ensuing free throws.
Nine early points by the sophomore guard Williams led a barrage of diverse scoring that helped the Golden Grizzlies jump out to a 25-12 lead with 7:58 left in the first.
The Titans missed their first nine 3-pointers and finished 7-for-24 from beyond the perimeter, while Oakland finished 8-for-26. Antoine Davis snapped the drought with 5:01 left in the half. Detroit Mercy went on a 7-2 run in the final 1:52 to cut Oakland's lead to single digits at halftime, 34-25.
Oakland looked as if it would take advantage of another sluggish start by Detroit Mercy to start the second half. The Titans hung in with big 3-pointers by Antoine Davis and Willy Isiani that kept the wind inside Calihan Hall and matched a pair of 3-pointers by Oakland's Williams, keeping Oakland's lead at 10 with 13:17 left.
With Brechting and Hill-Mais each picking up four fouls with plenty of time left, the Titans got Miller involved down low. The 6-foot-6, 268-pound big man battled inside to score eight straight for Detroit Mercy.
"From a strategy standpoint, what was going through my mind was, we had a solid lead, so we didn't want to double him," Kampe said. "We doubled him in the first half, and he didn't hurt us, but they missed some open looks."
The game's leading scorers continued to put on a shooting clinic in the second half, as Oakland's Williams traded 3-pointers with Antoine Davis to make it 54-47 with 9:34 remaining.
Oakland was given two Class-B technical fouls for flopping, one on Oladapo in the first half and another on Williams in the second. Still, Oakland had 34 attempts from the free-throw line compared to Detroit Mercy's 19.
A pair of free throws by Davis cut Oakland's lead to 56-52 with just over seven minutes to go. Williams hit a 28-foot 3-pointer and four free throws over the next 3:12, as an 11-0 run bookended by points by Hill-Mais put Oakland up comfortably, 68-52, with 2:59 remaining.
Miller was given a technical foul with just over two minutes to go for getting in Brechting's face after fouling the Oakland center hard at the rim.
Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.