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Oakland halts NKU’s two-year reign as Horizon League Tournament champions with 69-58 victory

By Don Owen
NKyTribune sports editor

INDIANAPOLIS — The goal of a Horizon League three-peat ended late Monday night for Northern Kentucky, which dropped a 69-58 decision to Oakland (Mich.) in the tournament semifinals.

Daniel Oladapo scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds for Oakland, which improved to 12-17 and advanced to the Horizon League Tournament championship game on Tuesday night against top-seeded Cleveland State. The third-seeded Golden Grizzlies held NKU to 33.3 percent shooting from the field and ended the Norse’s two-year reign as Horizon League Tournament champions.

Bryson Langdon attempts a shot while being defended by Oakland’s Rashad Williams (1) during the second half on Monday night. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

Oakland’s zone defense was the key, according to head coach Greg Kampe.

“I think that in my time at Oakland, we have won a lot of important, big basketball games,” Kampe said. “But I would tell you this is the first time in all those years [in] championships and tournaments that we have ever won a game because of our defense.

“We’ve won games because of defensive stops, or plays, but I thought we played 40 minutes of unbelievable defense. Our zone was tremendous.”

Rashad Williams added 17 points for Oakland, while Jalen Moore finished with 14 points, seven assists and six rebounds. The Golden Grizzlies won despite converting just 10 free throws in 26 attempts (38.5 percent) and losing the rebounding battle by a 44-36 margin.

“Give Greg and his team credit, I thought they played really well,” NKU head coach Darrin Horn said after his team ended the season with a 14-11 record. “They were really aggressive defensively. I thought we came out a little timid offensively and that carried over to the defensive end for us.

“We have been a team that has made a lot of progress over the last six weeks, but a big key to that was getting multiple contributions from people and having a third and fourth scorer step up for us. Tonight, we just didn’t have that.”

Trevon Faulkner scored 26 points and grabbed nine rebounds for NKU, which shot 7-for-30 from 3-point range. Bryson Langdon added 14 points and six assists, while Adrian Nelson hauled in a game-high 14 rebounds.

Nelson finished the season averaging 10.0 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-7 junior forward became just the fourth player in Norse history to average double-digit rebounding totals in a season and the first since Todd Svoboda pulled down 10.9 boards per contest in 1991-92.

Marques Warrick finished with eight points on 3-of-15 shooting from the field. The freshman from Lexington was 1-for-9 from 3-point range.

NKU’s Adrian Nelson pulls down one of his 14 rebounds against Oakland on Monday night. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

Trey Townsend chipped in nine points and 11 rebounds for Oakland, which snapped a four-game losing streak in the series against NKU. The Golden Grizzlies — who started the season 0-9 — committed just four turnovers and finished with a 34-24 edge in points in the paint.

Williams hit a pair of 3-pointers early in the game as Oakland jumped out to a 17-7 lead. NKU, meanwhile, made just two 3-pointers in 14 attempts the entire first half and trailed 31-26 at the break.

Oakland maintained the advantage the entire second half and led by as many as 17 points.

Exactly 24 years earlier on March 8, 1997, NKU had eliminated Oakland from the NCAA Division II Tournament with a 101-87 victory in the Great Lakes Region championship game at Indianapolis. That also marked the final game in Division II for Oakland, which transitioned to NCAA Division I status the following season.

NKU still holds a 13-12 lead in the all-time series against Oakland. Monday marked the second time NKU and Oakland have met in the Horizon League Tournament, with the Norse pulling out a 64-63 victory in the 2019 semifinals.

Drew McDonald buried a 3-pointer with with 1.6 seconds remaining in the game to give NKU the win over Oakland in the 2019 Horizon League Tournament semifinals. The Norse rallied from a 17-point deficit in the first half of that game.

Oakland and Cleveland State will play for the automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament on Tuesday night. Cleveland State (18-7) defeated Oakland twice during the regular season.

“We’ve been waiting for a chance to play them again,” Kampe said. “They’re the No.1 seed and will be a heavy favorite, but we’ll show up.”

NKU’s Trevon Faulkner elevates over Oakland defender Trey Townsend and draws a foul in the second half on Monday night. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

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