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Mar 22, 2024 1:56 pm

Upstart Oakland aims to continue Cinderella run vs. NC State

Oakland Golden Grizzlies

PITTSBURGH — Oakland University was so far off the map before Thursday that casual fans of the NCAA Tournament needed reminding the school is in Michigan — not California.

The Golden Grizzlies received the No. 14 seed in the South Region, knocked off third-seeded Kentucky and became the latest small school to enter the March Madness pantheon.

“This changed everything,” coach Greg Kampe said Thursday. “There’s nobody in the country that doesn’t know what Oakland basketball is.”

Either Oakland or No. 11 seed North Carolina State will extend a stunning run to the Sweet 16 when they face off in the second round of the tournament Saturday.

Kampe has led Oakland (24-11) for 40 seasons, far longer than the school has competed at the Division I level. The Golden Grizzlies’ 80-76 upset of Kentucky marked the first time the program won a game in the Round of 64.

Jack Gohlke knocked down 10 of 20 3-point shots, becoming the fifth player in NCAA Tournament history to make double-digit 3s in a game. He scored 32 points, and Trey Townsend added 17 points and 12 rebounds after he posted up and made a turnaround jumper over 7-footer Ugonna Onyenso in the final minutes.

“It’s such a great thing to see our fanbase travel,” said Townsend, who averages 16.9 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists. “We wanted Pittsburgh (or) Indianapolis because we knew they would travel if they could drive … Seeing them out there, my parents are here, my dad is right back there. To win with them here was a special thing for sure and we’re definitely not done yet.”

One question for Saturday’s game against the Wolfpack (23-14) is how the Golden Grizzlies will match up against NC State’s DJ Burns Jr., all 6-foot-9, 275 pounds of him.

Burns has been on a heater for NC State, which won five games in five days to storm through the ACC tournament before beating No. 6 Texas Tech 80-67 on Thursday. Burns has shot 24-of-34 for 55 points over his past three games.

“He was a local star for a whole year and now everybody in the national media is starting to understand that,” NC State coach Kevin Keatts said. “I mean, he’s just fun. He scores and he gets beat up all the time. And he’s almost gotta play through contact. But it is so fun to watch him.

“And you know, I consider him a closer for us. We put him in the game, and he closes the game.”

While four Wolfpack players have done the majority of the scoring this year — DJ Horne (16.9 ppg), Burns (12.5), Jayden Taylor (11.6) and Casey Morsell (11.4) — contributions are coming from up and down the bench.

Both Ben Middlebrooks (21 points) and Mohamed Diarra (17) put up career-high totals against Texas Tech, and Michael O’Connell scored in double figures in all five games of the ACC tournament before dishing six assists Thursday.

NC State and Oakland likely can appreciate one another’s paths to the Round of 32. Both teams, of course, are hungry for more.

“The whole thing down the stretch has been, once we knew we had won a ring, the whole banter in the locker room has been, what’s it going to say on that ring, right?” Kampe said. “What’s it going to say on that ring: just Horizon League champ? NCAA? Sweet 16? Final Four? I’ve put that thought in their mind, and they’ve really battled for it, and they understand that their life got changed (Thursday), but it could get changed a hell of a lot more if we keep this thing going.”

–Adam Zielonka, Field Level Media

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