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Oakland guard Nick Daniels stormed into the home dressing room singing and dancing a fun jig with a box of shortbread Girl Scout cookies clutched in his right.
“I got Girl Scout cookies,” he sang. “I got some Girl Scout cookies.”
He looked forward to snapping the box open and curling up with a glass of milk later and even talked about sharing some with another member of the Bench Boys, center Brad Brechting. The cookies weren’t the sweetest thing about the weekend. It was the 82-71 victory and season sweep of Valparaiso at the O’rena before a packed house of 3,991 fans and an ESPN2 audience watching nationwide.
Now the surging Golden Grizzlies (20-7 overall, 10-4 in the Horizon League), winner of five consecutive games, are within a game of the first-place Crusaders (21-6, 11-3) with four games to play.
The team that was left for dead two weeks ago following loses to the Detroit Mercy Titans and Cleveland State Vikings is knocking on the door and eating cookies.
There were plenty of fine performances in this pivotal game but the Bench Boys provided an emotional and physical spark the visitors could not overcome. Brechting stopped playing “goofy” and demanded the ball, took it up strong and was a force inside with a career-high 12 points and four rebounds. Nicky D. fired up teammates and fired up three-point bombs to the tune of a season-high 16 points.
“I was just ready to go today,” Brechting said. “I had to come out and be vocal. It was a big game and my energy flow is high and I was ready to go. I just had that fire in me and I thought I could take that man all day.”
Daniels said: “I’ve always got that same mindset. I was trying to motivate my starters and once I come off the bench I got that juice.”
Daniels said he got that juice from shooting sessions with assistant coach Cornell Mann who pleaded with players to do extra shooting when their confidence on offense waned.
Brechting sometimes "plays goofy" when coaches believe he loses control of his game and does silly things on the court. He did not play goofy Friday except when he clanked a pair of free throws late.
The big gun this night was junior Martez Walker who broke Valpo down with aggressive drives to the hole. He finished with 23 points and was 7-for-13 from the field. He also took a kick to the cookies from Valpo’s Tevonn Walker who was ejected from the game in the second half.
Afterwards Kampe deflected praise for coaching his 1,000th game.
“This was your 20th win,” he told his team.
“And congrats coach for your 1,000th game,” someone shouted across the room.
The team clapped and Kampe held up a finger and shook his head.
“That’s nice to say,” Kampe said. “But it’s not about me. It’s about you. It’s your turn. It’s your turn.”
“It’s all about us because we are family,” Daniels shouted.
Oakland is on top of its game and is putting heat on Valpo. It is both exciting and dangerous. I will admit that I sometimes thought this team to be as soft as Charmin as lesser teams walked into the O’rena and shook it down.
However, I’ve come to believe that this team must learn to handle prosperity. Valpo is out the way. The University of Illinois-Chicago (14-13, 7-7) comes to town Sunday for a 3 p.m. game at the O’rena. UIC beat Detroit Mercy 74-69 Friday night at Calihan Hall.
Kampe told the story of when he first met freshman center Isaiah Brock who was an American soldier stationed in Kuwait. When Kampe and his crew drove up to the Army base he was met with a giant cement wall to prevent car bombers from driving into the base to kill troops. As they drove past the gates a burned out car was positioned inside.
Kampe asked their guide about the car.
“He told me that’s a reminder to the soldiers that every step you take you have to be on your guard,” Kampe told his team. “I’m not saying anything we do is anything like that. But we have a reminder as we play UIC and Youngstown State. We have Detroit and Cleveland State that blew up our season in this building. If we win those two games we are so far ahead of it with 22 wins. But we didn’t and we have to remember. That is our reminder like that car is for those soldiers. In your mind you have to remember that because of the euphoria you got five wins in a row and dominating Valpo in the euphoria you can push in the wrong direction. You have to stay focused and sharp and realize that in 34 hours we play a game that is every bit as important as this one. So that has to be on your mind.”