Oakland came into Monday night’s Horizon League Tournament semi-final leading the nation in scoring at 87.3 ppg. Wright State is the second-best defensive team in the Horizon League, behind only Valparaiso. Wright State slowed the game down and contained Oakland’s potent offense, winning 59-55 and clinching a date with Green Bay in the Horizon League Championship game. The Raiders controlled the tempo in the first half, leading by as many as 13 points and slowing Oakland down en route to a 33-25 halftime lead. The Raiders took a page out of Oakland’s book when Biggie Minnis stole the ball from Kay Felder and Mark Alstork finished with a fastbreak layup. It is usually the Golden Grizzlies who want to start running and score in transition. Alstork had a great first half shooting the ball, going 5-8 from the field and scoring 12 points, and finishing with 18 total. Daniel Mortensen added 8 points in the opening stanza, as his three point shooting spread the floor nicely. Oakland was not able to find any offensive rhythm, as they shot just 33% from the field in the first half. Felder, in particular, struggled going 1-9 from the field. A play that summed up Oakland’s opening half was when Felder threw his trademark laser-pass from the top of the perimeter into the paint to Percy Gibson, who missed a wide-open layup.
But Oakland came out with a renewed sense of urgency in the second half. Oakland gained their first lead (45-44) since early in the game, when Martez Walker drove to this left and converted on a three-point play after he was fouled slam-dunking the ball emphatically. But Oakland could only increase their lead to as many as three points. Biggie Minnis made a critical shot with one minute left, giving Wright State a 55-54 lead. But it was JT Yoho who was unguardable down the stretch, scoring 8 of his team’s final 15 points, as he finished with 15 points overall. Alstork helped to set the tone and build the lead for Wright State, while Yoho sealed the deal in the end. Felder did heat up scoring 15 points in the second half. But he missed a critical layup with under 20 seconds left that would have tied the game at 57. Forward Jalen Hayes played the best for Oakland today, finishing with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Max Hooper added 9 points on 3-6 shooting from downtown. It is Wright State’s defense that deserves so much credit for this victory. Not only did Oakland only shoot 37% from the field overall, but they only attempted 46 shots when they average about 65 per game. The Golden Grizzlies just could not get enough quality looks at the basket. The Raiders controlling the pace of the game takes away the flow for a team like Oakland who likes to run and shoot early in the shot clock.
Wright State (22-12, 13-5) will play Green Bay Tuesday at 7pm on ESPN for the Horizon League Tournament title. Oakland’s (21-11, 13-5) season is not over, but they fell short of their major goal in getting to the NCAA Tournament. They are likely headed to their first NIT Tournament in school history.