Game #9-216: Valparaiso Crusaders at Oakland Golden GrizzliesDecember 17, 2012 7:00 pm
Athletics & Recreation Center
I left St. Louis at 7am early Monday morning. Ten and a half hours later, via Indianapolis, Toledo, and Detroit, I wound up on the Campus of Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan a half hour before tip time. Fortunately there was enough light on campus to illuminate the signs pointing to the O'Rena. I found a parking space 5 minutes by foot from the facility and followed all the Oakland fans and a few Valpo fans into the arena where I picked up my ticket at Will Call. I showed it to the ticket taker as I gazed fondly again at the mural on the wall of Pierre Dukes' buzzer beater in 2005 down in Tulsa that catapulted the Grizzlies into their first Division I NCAA Tournament (they took part in the Play-In Game in Dayton that year for the right to be a punching bag for the North Carolina Tar Heels).
I gaze fondly at it because I am included in the picture (I'm the heavy-set bearded guy on the left). I was sitting 5 rows back of the Oakland bench that night taking in one of the most exciting conference tournament championship games it has ever been my pleasure to witness in person. Therein lies a tale, which I will try to keep short. I wrote last year about the Oakland-Valpo rivalry
in the old Mid-Continent conference, but I hinted at the acquaintance I have with Coach Greg Kampe of the Oakland Golden Grizzlies and how it started that very year at the conference tournament. It was very strange to me: a coach of one team interacting with the fan of his biggest rival as if both of us were on the same level. I sat with him watching the Oakland Lady Grizzlies play for the conference tourney championship the following year. He sent me an Oakland T-shirt and cap, on the off-chance that at a future Mid-Con tourney I would wear it to watch a game not involving Valpo. In February of 2007, when Valpo had already accepted an invitation to join the Horizon League, Oakland's final home game was Greg Kampe Bobble-head night. By the way, the game that night against Oral Roberts was a humdinger (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGSpHncmp9A
). By then we had exchanged email addresses, so I felt bold enough to ask if he had any Bobble-heads left and could bring one to Tulsa in March for me. He did, and autographed it for me. After the tourney was over, Mark Lazerus of the Post-Tribune was present when coach Kampe talked about a few of the reasons why he was going to miss having Valpo as a conference rival. One of those reasons he cited is pictured here:
I had never been to the O'Rena during Valpo's Mid-Con days, though I never missed listening to our games there. As Valpo competed in the Horizon League I began to regret that I'd never been there once. One I actually resolved to attend Valpo's game against Detroit-Mercy, then head over to Rochester to catch an Oakland game, but I missed my flight and missed my chance. When the rivalry was finally renewed 2 years ago, I resolved to make it to the game one way or another - in part because I wanted to see that mural he told me about with me in the picture. The long drive was well worth it, as I mentioned last year.
The long drive was well worth it this time, too, even if the result was a Valpo loss. If I were into signs and portends, I might suggest in the aftermath of this game that this rivalry is destined to continue for the foreseeable future. The combined score of the last 3 games in this rivalry is Oakland 254 Valpo 251, and each game has been that close, not resolved until the final buzzer. As I stated last year, "this rivalry resists blowouts." And in this last game, enough chippiness developed to suggest to the uninitiated that these two teams have "hated" each other for years. One way or another, I find it hard to believe these teams are done playing each other, whether as conference rivals once again or simply as non-conference rivals as they have been the last 3 years.
Coach Kampe was looking for his first Div. I home win of the season, and he looked at this game as a benchmark moving forward into conference season. He still has much to work out with his team. Meanwhile, Valpo needs a road win over a team it theoretically "should beat".
This is the time of year when students are on vacation, but by game time, the bleachers on one end were full and the bleachers on the other end were half full. Besides, the capacity is small enough that I still expected the place to be loud. There were also plenty of Oakland fans right behind the Valpo bench with only a row or two of Valpo fans separating them. My seat was right behind press row on the opposite side. Thank god they have to remain seated during the game.
In spite of the significant lineup change for the 2nd half of the Missouri State game
, Bryce returned to his traditional starting five for this game. In certain match-ups he says he will switch it up, but maybe he has to see how a game flows first. Oakland went with its usual starting five as well.
One thing that is absolutely loud in this place is the PA guy. They have his mic cranked up high. He is very loud whenever something good happens for the home team. When Valpo committed a traveling violation early on, he bellowed, "That's traveling, and YOU CAN'T DO THAT!!!" The hometown crowd always joins in on the second part. When there's an assist on a scoring play, he calls out the scorer, and then adds, "Thank you, Duke Mondy" to signify the assist.
This game was a blur to me, even while I sat there and watched. I remember bits and pieces, but I can't always piece together the flow of the game to tell me why something happened or why momentum changed. My notes tell me quite a number of things happened in this game, many of them interesting.
The refs allowed a lot of physical play. These officials called very few charging fouls, even though there were plenty of lane confrontations, just like in the Missouri State game. But it seemed to me that what qualified as a charging foul last Friday night in Springfield was called a blocking foul in this game. The refs for this game were quite familiar to both coaches. At least two of them have worked plenty of Mid-Con/Summit League and Horizon League games over the years. Needless to say, both coaches were less than thrilled with their performance at times.
Corey Petros blew a thunder-dunk in the early going that would have brought the house down. Lavonte Dority found the lane wide open and emphatically threw down a dunk to score. Unfortunately, he screamed something as he headed up court, right in front of the Oakland bench. As Richie Edwards could have warned him (had he not transferred to Arizona State), refs do not take kindly to taunting. This was the first of two technical fouls assessed to Valpo. Even without Richie (who got T-ed up for the same thing last year at Milwaukee) as a teammate, this is the kind of thing coaches are supposed to school their players on at the beginning of every season. The NCAA has made this a point of emphasis the past couple of years, and everybody knows this.
Later in the first half, Erik Buggs drew an offensive foul from Kevin Bass after tenacious defense in the back-court, only to forfeit the possession by committing a technical foul. From my vantage point, the best that I could make out was that Erik slammed the ball on the floor, obviously in anger over something. It read to me like the old tried-and-true reaction technical. A good guess (and that's all it is) would be that Bass shoved Buggs, incurring the offensive foul, but Buggs was sufficiently provoked to lose his cool over it.
It is clear that both teams knew before the opening tip which opposing player they were not going to let beat them. For Oakland, it was Ryan Broekhoff as it is for most opponents. For Valpo in this game, it was, not surprisingly, Travis Bader. Broekhoff was held to 10 points, but also got a game-high 10 rebounds. Bader managed 16 points, but Ben Boggs spent almost all of his court time living in Bader's shorts, so to speak. One time I saw the two of them slapping each other's hands away. Another time I saw Bader plead for a foul to no avail.
Once again, Bryce started the 2nd half with Capobianco, Broekhoff, Van Wijk, Buggs, and Dority. The hard-fought first half ended with Oakland leading 34-32. This time, Valpo's opponent handled the lineup change fairly well, extending their lead to as much as 9 points in the first 4 minutes. However, Valpo stormed back to take their own 9 point lead at the 4:51 mark, capping it off with 3 straight wide open layups by Kevin Van Wijk. Valpo led 68-59 at that point.
That was the last points they would score. What followed was a defensive adjustment by Oakland that I didn't detect from my court-side seat, a shooting foul beyond the arc, a couple of turnovers, some missed shots out of a deliberate offensive set, and through it all, Oakland scored the last 12 points to win, 70-68. With just over a minute to go and Valpo still leading 68-67, this is the one game moment I managed to catch with my camera:
During the timeout, I wrote in my notes: "Here we go again. The O'Rena is electric." The last 7 or 8 times Valpo stormed in front of Oakland on this court late in the game after being behind for a long time, they always prevailed in the end. Oakland fans had seen it for years when these two teams were conference rivals. They'd sometimes have the upper hand for most of the game, only to see it slip through their fingers at crunch time, sometimes only in the final seconds. Their final conference tilt at the O'Rena in 2007 did finally end in a win, but only because the Valpo comeback fell short. Tonight's game threatened to rekindle all those bad memories from the past.
But as I wrote last year, this rivalry is no longer one-sided. This time, the home team completed their comeback. This time the ball bounced in their favor. This time, when Duke Mondy stood alone at the FT line with a one-point lead, surrounded only by 4 Valpo rebounders, his front-end miss bounced quickly right back to him, forcing one of the 4 Valpo players to foul him with 9 seconds to go. This time, it was a Valpo player missing a buzzer-beater 3 from behind the arc. This time, when the home crowd rose to their feet and made noise, the home team responded in kind.
By the time I returned to St. Louis, I had completely forgotten about the Big East and the so-called new "Catholic Conference". I spent all day traveling and watching my team lose by 2 in a barn-burner to a team I can't help feeling is going to be on Valpo's schedule for years to come. It's as if there was a short vacation, and now they have picked up right where they left off as if they haven't missed a beat. Only Matt Kenney, Kevin Van Wijk, Ryan Broekhoff, and Erik Buggs from the Valpo side were around 2 years ago when the rivalry was renewed. Only assistant coach Jake Diebler competed against Oakland in the Mid-Continent conference. Drew Valentine, Ryan Bass, and Travis Bader likewise remember the 103-102 loss they sustained here two years ago. But only Coach Kampe remembers what it was like to compete against Valpo twice a year. Some of the crushing defeats still stick in his craw.
But for most of the participants, this is brand new. Yet all played as if they hated each other in the competitive sense of that word. Not only does this rivalry resist blowouts, it also refuses to die. Oakland has been rumored for a year now as a potential replacement for Butler in the Horizon League, and they have made it known publicly that they are interested. So, even though I find all the recent conference realignment to be distasteful, I find myself wishing for Oakland to join the Horizon League. It would hurt the Summit League, which I still have some fondness for, but if it will keep these two teams playing each other, I can't deny the desirability of adding them to the Horizon League.
The truth is, everyone looks to see their conference status improved whenever the opportunity arises. The real reason I hate all the talk about the Big East and the so-called Catholic Conference is that Valpo isn't included and I'm still smarting from Butler leaving for the A-10. I mean, I don't blame Butler, but it's a stinging reminder of just how low on the totem pole my school really is.
It's the game on the court - what we call Our Game - that takes my mind off the vulture activity that we all too easily take part in. Frankly, if this series continues into the future even as a non-conference rivalry, I'll be pleased.
at OAKLAND 70, VALPARAISO 68
VALPARAISO 7-4 (0-0) -- R. Broekhoff 4-10 0-0 10; L. Dority 5-14 3-4 14; E. Buggs 2-2 0-0 4; K. Van Wijk 4-6 3-3 11; B. Capobianco 3-6 1-1 9; B. Boggs 5-5 0-0 11; M. Kenney 1-3 0-0 3; J. Coleman 3-7 0-2 6; W. Bogan 0-0 0-0 0; V. Fernandez 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-53 7-10 68.
OAKLAND 4-7 (0-0) -- T. Bader 3-12 8-9 16; D. Valentine 1-4 2-3 4; D. Mondy 6-15 3-5 16; C. Petros 4-12 4-6 12; R. Bass 7-13 0-0 16; M. Poches 1-3 2-2 4; R. Carter 0-0 0-0 0; D. Williams 1-1 0-0 2; M. Baenziger 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-60 19-25 70.
Three-point goals: VALP 7-23 (J. Coleman 0-3; B. Boggs 1-1; B. Capobianco 2-2; M. Kenney 1-3; R. Broekhoff 2-8; L. Dority 1-6), OAK 5-15 (D. Mondy 1-3; T. Bader 2-8; D. Valentine 0-1; R. Bass 2-3); Rebounds: VALP 34 (R. Broekhoff 10), OAK 27 (D. Valentine 6); Assists: VALP 12 (E. Buggs 3), OAK 8 (D. Mondy 4); Total Fouls -- VALP 19, OAK 15; Fouled Out: VALP-K. Van Wijk; OAK-R. Bass.