By Matt Dery
TV and Radio analyst
Winning teams have a winning culture. How many times have you heard that in sports? It has almost become a cliche, but it is true of the 2016-2017 Oakland Golden Grizzlies. And it was on display on Tuesday night in beautiful Clemson, South Carolina.
Greg Kampe's team could have easily succumb to the circumstances. Oakland was down 20 points to an ACC team in a tournament that really isn't their first choice. The Golden Grizzlies were playing on Tuesday night on the road, as opposed to being where they wanted to be, on a neutral court on either Thursday or Friday in the NCAA Tournament. Oh and did I mention that with 17 minutes left the Golden Grizzlies were also without their best player? Yup. Jalen Hayes was back in the locker room with a serious injury to his teeth and mouth. No one would have faulted the Golden Grizzlies for playing hard and then going home. But the culture in Rochester would not allow it.
Oakland fought back. Oakland rode the hot hand of Martez Walker. Its fifth year senior, Sherron Dorsey-Walker, would not be denied and Xavier Hill-Mais started raining down jumpers. Yes, a "Fedex" sighting in a huge spot for Oakland when they sorely needed him. A 20 point deficit was nothing to this group and Clemson all of the sudden started to buckle to the pressure. As Coach Kampe pointed out to the Free Press's Mark Snyder, the Tigers have had problems this year holding on to second half leads. It was the right recipe for a 74-69 victory in Round 1 of the NIT.
Culture is everything. Here is Hill-Mais stepping up after having a disappointing season for him. Here is Isaiah Brock bouncing back from a brutal first half on both ends of the floor, contributing as a freshman in an environment he is not used to. As a team? This group plays defense. Kampe has heard the criticism from certain media types that fail to be there at press row to watch this team consistently. But they guard people! This is not the Golden Grizzlies from last year or two years ago. They held Clemson to 26 second half points. 26. Not bad.
I'm very impressed with this group and have been all year. They have been hit with adversity on a few occasions this year and have climbed back in the ring to wrestle each and every time thereafter. The sting of the Youngstown State loss at the Joe may never go away, but this team has left a different mark. Their culture and pride and fight is unmatched, and they should be proud of what they have accomplished. Especially departing Clemson as winners.