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Oakland Stuns College Basketball World, Upsets Kentucky 80-76



PITTSBURGH – Programming note: you’re bracket’s probably busted. College basketball world, meet Jack Gohlke.

Oakland’s Jack Gohlke entered the NCAA Tournament averaging 12 points per game. His season high was 31 against IUPUI. A 38% three-point shooter, Gohlke put the entire Golden Grizzlies program on his back with a swagger and confidence of a 10-time All-Star with 32 points and a performance to last a lifetime. 

Anything can happen in March. 

On Thursday night in Pittsburgh, Oakland (Horizon League) shocked the world, defeating Kentucky (SEC) 80-76 in the first round of the 2024 NCAA Tournament. 

“This is the greatest win I’ve ever been a part of,” Oakland head coach Greg Kampe said. “As soon as that horn went off, I changed my mind immediately.” Oakland defeated Michigan during the 2000-01 season in one of the most memorable games of his career. Beating Kentucky creates a new No. 1 in his heart. “This, on primetime, against a great coach, the great program. And the way we played.

“I’m going to say it again. We led the whole game right? And every time they got the lead we came right back. If we were pretenders, we would have folded, and that’s what Jack meant by that Cinderella thing. We don’t look at ourselves that way. We’re not pretenders. We believe that we belong here.”

Oakland came out of the gates firing and never played intimidated by the eight-time national champs. Kentucky owned the height advantage with Aaron Bradshaw (7-foot-1) and Elizabeth Forward native Tre Mitchell (6-9) the tallest players on the floor with Chris Conway (6-9). 

Instead, it was Oakland who controlled the tempo and found success on the glass, especially on the offensive boards. 

Three offensive rebounds in a row led to a Rocket Watts pull-up basket in the first five minutes of play. Oakland outrebounded Kentucky 10-6 on the offensive boards to start the night. 

Amongst everything, Gholke was the story of the first half. Ghokle was playing at DII Hillsdale College for five season before arriving at Oakland. Back-to-back triples gave Oakland an 11-9 lead early in the contest but foreshadowed what was to come for the first 20 minutes. 

“I’m always pretty much just locked into the game. Obviously I’m feeling the emotion of it,” Gohlke said. “Just focused on trying to make the next shot, trying to win for my teammates… living in the moment.”

Kentucky cut the deficit to 23-20 as Oakland embarked on a three-minute scoreless streak. It wouldn’t last much longer. The Golden Grizzlies continued to ride Gohlke. He totaled 18 points with three and a half minutes left in the first half, with Oakland leading 31-28. Everyone else on the team had 13 combined. Greg Kampe’s team was 8-19 from three and playing terrific basketball at the stoppage of play.

The Wildcats struggled to grab defensive rebounds and played a significant role in allowing Oakland to capitalize on open looks. Oakland led 36-35 with a minute remaining in the first half. Watts cashed in on an open look, the Grizzlies got a stop defensively, but Watts picked up his third foul due to a push-off offensively. 

Oakland took a 38-35 advantage to the locker room. Kentucky entered the break scoreless over the last two minutes and 45 seconds of play as the Wildcats offense stalled. Gohlke scored 21 points in 16 minutes on 7-13 attempts from the floor. All threes. The rest of the team scored 17 combined in the first half as the Golden Grizzlies shot 37% overall but better (45%) from three. 

The Golden Grizzlies displayed their confidence leading up to the game and that they are right at home on the national stage.

“We were just trying to say that we believed we belonged here as well, we proved it, and we’ve been a solid team all year,” Gohlke said. We’ve won close games. We believe in each other as teammates that we’re always going to make the next play because things are going to go wrong, but we know we’re going to make the next one.”

Kentucky turned the ball over seven times and was outscored off the bench 25-13. 14 points from Antonio Reeves led Kentucky in the first half, but the team recorded a 27% line overall.

You could start to feel the energy inside PPG Paints Arena shifting Kentucky’s way as the Wildcats took a 45-43 lead, and Oakland failed to score for over two minutes. The Golden Grizzlies missed six of seven shots early in the second half, but the drought ended soon. Why? Jack Gohlke.

The Golden Grizzlies lead 49-45 with 13:43 left in the second half as Jack Gohlke cashed in another three.

Kentucky did a solid job in its offensive sets and putting together runs, but Oakland kept answering. Gohlke scored… again. He had 27 points on 9-16 from three with 12 minutes left and attempting to carry the Golden Grizzlies to the finish line with Oakland leading 53-49. Reeves had a solid day for himself as well with 18, while Mitchell scored 10 at the stoppage of play.

Horizon League Player of the Year Trey Townsend significantly made his impact known in the matchup. He totaled a double-double halfway through the second half and pushed the envelope against Kentucky on both ends.

The NCAA Tournament victory is only the second ever in Oakland program history.

“It’s such a great thing and to see our fanbase travel,” Townsend said. “We wanted Pittsburgh and Indianapolis because we knew they would travel if they could drive, and to see the support that was here tonight. that pushed us over the edge on top of Jack carrying us on his back for most of the game.”

Mitchell did well keeping Kentucky close, but Oakland built a five-point lead (61-56) thanks to making three-straight shots.

It was a game you just had to see to believe. A game defining what March Madness is all about. Gohlke missed a three with less than five minutes left, but an offensive rebound by the Golden Grizzlies and an outlet pass to him at the left wing delivered another three. Gohlke streaked down the floor with his hands nearly touching the court as he turned to his home fans to celebrate.

Fighting to stave off elimination, Reeves answered with a huge corner triple to come within two. Oakland led 67-65. 

The final minutes were hectic, energetic, intense, and everything you could ask for in college basketball.

In his 40th season at Oakland, college basketball’s longest tenured head coach is winning with a difference philosophy. Kampe’s Golden Grizzlies upset the Kentucky Wildcats in one of the biggest games in program history.

“I’ve always been a coach that won games with offense, and this year it’s all about defense, and great players making plays down the stretch,” Kampe said. We just win close games. If you would have been in our huddles the last seven, eight minutes of the game, we said if we get it — if we’re ahead with six minutes to go in the game, we will win, and they believes, and they did.”

DQ Cole nailed two free throws to make it 75-71 Oakland. Rob Dillingham answered with a thee, 75-74 Oakland. Cole did it again with a corner three to give Oakland a 78-74 advantage. 

In the game of his life, Jack Gohlke scored 32 points on 10-20 shooting from behind the arc. Townsend scored 16 points and added 12 rebounds. He played the entire game. Oakland shot 15-31 (48%) from three and pulled off the upset despite a 12-21 (57%) mark at the free-throw line. Reeves finished the game with a team-high 27 points on 11-17 shooting. Mitchell totaled 14 points and 13 rebounds, but fouled out for Big Blue before the final possessions.  

Oakland moves on to play the winner of No. 6 Texas Tech and No. 11 NC State on Saturday in Pittsburgh. 

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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