March Madness Comes to Pittsburgh

Brentaro Yamane | Multimedia Editor | DQ Cole hit the shot of his life for Oakland, a corner 3 that put the dagger in the Wildcats

Michael O’Grady | Staff Writer

This March, the Duquesne Dukes are experiencing the madness first hand. Their upset of BYU is Duquesne’s first NCAA Tournament victory since 1969, and tomorrow they’ll take on Big Ten Conference champion Illinois. But back in their home city of Pittsburgh, the madness is rife.

It was decided long ago, before any Atlantic-10 Conference trophies or busted brackets, that Duquesne would host a portion of the tournament’s first and second rounds at PPG Paints Arena this year. Hosting was no easy task for Duquesne, given the men’s team’s success this season. Sports Information Director Jim Duzyk was occupied at PPG Paints Arena, so traveling to Omaha with the Dukes was Duzyk’s predecessor Dave Saba, who retired in August after 25 years at Duquesne.

The four games Duzyk witnessed on Thursday in PPG exemplified what the tournament is all about. Of the four games, three became upsets, including one by a mid-major commuter school that has suddenly taken America by storm. 

The Oakland Golden Grizzlies of Rochester, MI, last appeared in the bracket in 2011 and had never won a Division I tournament game past the First Four. That changed Thursday night when the buzzer sounded and Oakland, a 14-seed, had won 80-76 over their opponent, the three-seed Kentucky Wildcats.

“This is the greatest win that I’ve ever been a part of,” said Oakland Head Coach Greg Kampe, who in his 40th season is the longest tenured coach in Division I, “on primetime, against a great coach, a great program, and just the way we played. We led the whole game”

Oakland did not lead the whole game, but they never let Kentucky get away. The Wildcats’ largest lead of the night was just two, while the Golden Grizzlies led by as much as seven. 

The contest was a thrill ride between the two vastly different programs, and the atmosphere was crackling with electricity. A staple of college basketball, Kentucky had a large contingent all around the arena, but a lone section of Oakland fans matched their intensity. It was loud, it was tense — it was March at its finest.

Early on, the stories might have been about Kentucky Head Coach and Basketball Hall of Famer John Calipari coaching in his home city, or about the potential future NBA Draft picks on Kentucky’s roster, such as Reed Sheppard or Rob Dillingham. All that went out the window when Jack Gohlke came off the bench for Oakland. Gohlke, a senior playing his first Division I season, stole the spotlight with his barrage of contested threes. 

In the regular season, Gohlke attempted 327 3-pointers out of 335 field goals. A specialist to the extreme, with every absurd 3 he sunk, Oakland picked up more energy. The concern in the Wildcats’ faces grew as they struggled to deal with the amount of fight Gohlke and the others were giving them; by halftime, Kentucky seemed lucky to only be down by 3 despite seven 3-pointers from Gohlke.

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

Although Gohlke and his team cooled off somewhat, Kentucky’s offensive problems persisted into the second half. They looked to finally catch a break after an Antonio Reeves layup, but Trey Townsend answered right back with a 3 to put the Wildcats back at square one, and Gohlke connected again on Oakland’s next possession. 

The game stayed close with Oakland in the lead, and Calipari desperately threw out different lineups trying to get his team rolling. 

Sheppard finally hit a 3 with just under six minutes to go, his first and only points of the night. Gohlke responded minutes later with his 10th 3-pointer of the night, tying him for second-most in a March Madness game. Oakland stayed ahead, taking advantage of Kentucky offensive miscues, and Kentucky would make a 3 of their own whenever it looked like Oakland might pull away. One of those 3’s came from Dillingham with just over a minute to go, putting Kentucky behind by just one. 26 seconds later, DQ Cole hit the shot of his life for Oakland, a corner 3 that put the dagger in the Wildcats.

Despite the improbable win, Gohlke scoffed at being labeled a Cinderella team.

“As a player, you can’t think that way. You got to go out there, and you got to think you have the same talent level as them,” Gohlke said. “I know they have draft picks, and I know I’m not going to the NBA. But I know on any given night I can compete with those types of guys and our team can compete with those types of guys.”

On the losing side, a somber Calipari shared his thoughts, no doubt thinking about Kentucky’s recent March disasters such as a similar loss to Saint Peter’s two years ago.

“You go through this, and I’ve been in the ups and downs of this sport, but this one, I’m really hurting for [the Wildcats],” he said. “This team I really felt could’ve done so much more, and our fans were here again. I feel bad for our fans. But to define [Kentucky’s] season with this game, it’s the sport we’re in, it’s what we do, but that’s what I’m disappointed in for them.”

While Kentucky enters another long off-season, Kampe summed up what this win means for his program.

“This changed everything tonight. There’s nobody in the country that doesn’t know what Oakland basketball is, and I’m really proud of that.”

While the Oakland-Kentucky game became a nationwide topic, Pittsburgh had no shortage of storylines throughout the day.

11-seed Oregon defeated six-seed South Carolina, 87-73, behind a career-high and Oregon March Madness history high 40 points from Jermaine Couisnard, who spent his first three college years in Columbia. The Ducks never relinquished their lead to the Gamecocks after Couisnard made a layup with 4:49 left in the first half, even when Ta’lon Cooper hit a 70-foot-long buzzer beater for South Carolina at the half.

“I kind of heard somebody [on South Carolina] say something on the court to me,” Couisnard said. “That’s what got me going, and I’m competitive, but those guys, they kind of made me. I grew and learned a lot while I was there.”

Three-seed Creighton defeated 14-seed Akron, 77-60, in the only game of the day that was not an upset. While Akron kept on pace with the Bluejays through the first half, Creighton’s 3-point shooting and center Ryan Kalkbrenner proved to be too much for the Zips. During the game, Duquesne’s upset over BYU was shown on the arena jumbotron, prompting both coaches to speak about Duquesne Head Coach Keith Dambrot post-game.

“Keith’s been a friend of mine a long time,” said Creighton Head Coach Greg McDermott. “We coached against each other back when I was at Northern Iowa and he was at Akron, and what a great way for him to go out as his career is winding down. He’s always been a terrific coach, tremendously respected in our profession, and good things happen to good people sometimes.”

“It’s awesome, what he’s been able to do,” echoed Akron Head Coach John Groce. “I’m happy for him and Donna with the retirement. Keith’s a big reason why I ended up coming to Akron.”

To finish off the night, 11-seed NC State continued their hot streak and took out six-seed Texas Tech, 80-67. In a game with little drama, the Wolfpack’s Mohamed Diarra, DJ Burns, DJ Horne and Ben Middlebrooks all scored over 15 points, continuing a stretch of games that is likely saving the job of Head Coach Kevin Keatts.

Tomorrow’s games will feature Oakland vs. NC State at 7:10 p.m. in a battle of sub-10 seeds, and Oregon Head Coach Dana Altman will take on a Creighton team he spent 16 years coaching.