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Jeff Kolpack, Published January 23 2011

Grizzlies got it all: Oakland flexes its muscle in men's basketball win against NDSU

For the first time this season, there was heat in the Bison Sports Arena kitchen. A season high in both attendance and intensity saw why Oakland University (Mich.) is the top chef in the Summit League.

The Grizzlies have all the utensils.

They had an answer for everything North Dakota State threw at them Saturday night, taking an 83-76 victory in front of 3,761 fans. Need points? The top seven players had at least six points, led by reserve guard Larry Wright’s 20. Need blocked shots and steals? Center Keith Benson had five and three, respectively, in addition to his 11 rebounds. Need a

3-pointer? Guard Travis Bader had a key four-point play midway in the second half and Wright hit the biggest trey that gave the Grizzlies a 76-69 lead with 1:33 remaining.

Need an NBA draft pick? They have that prospect, too, in the 6-foot-11 Benson.

“You know what he’s being judged on now?” said Oakland head coach Greg Kampe. “Can you win? And he knows that. He’s been told that.”

It was a valiant effort by the Bison in defeat, but 1 of 14 shooting from 3-point range – and this is a team that was near the top in 3-point shooting percentage in the country for most of the season – was costly.

“When you go 1-for-14, that probably does you in,” said Bison head coach Saul Phillips, after lauding his team’s hustle. “It results in another loss, but I don’t think you could find anybody in the building tonight and not appreciate the guys’ effort.”

It was a Summit League record 17th straight conference win for the Grizzlies, who defeated then seventh-ranked Tennessee earlier this year. They’ve won 38 of their last 40 games against Summit teams, losing only to IUPUI last year and NDSU in the 2009 tournament title game.

“The win over Tennessee, everybody’s talking about it, everybody loves the thrill,” Kampe said. “I like the substance and the substance is we’ve won 38.”.

NDSU’s best stretch was nine straight points early in the first half that gave the Bison a 15-12 advantage, a lead they held for a few minutes. But the Grizzlies forged ahead for a 34-28 halftime lead and held the upper hand the rest of the way.

It wasn’t easy, though.

Down 43-32 in the first three minutes of the second half, a quick three straight hoops prevented the Grizzlies from running away. With Benson playing cautious defense with three fouls, Bison center Marshall Bjorklund got loose for a couple hoops that started a 12-2 run.

“That was the mindset, to pick up his fifth foul,” Bjorklund said. “It was a good experience, but you have to treat him like any other player. You can’t shy away from anybody, especially him.”

Bjorklund was strong all night, finishing with 21 points and eight rebounds. The true freshman wasn’t afraid to attack Benson, especially after he picked up his fourth foul with 6:31 remaining and had the best game of his young career.

“A true freshman goes for 21 and eight against a guy who will be making millions of dollars playing basketball,” Phillips said.

And in the last several minutes, it was Benson vs. Bjorklund.

Bjorklund’s three-point play after a rebound got the Bison within 68-67 with 3:25 left. But Benson answered with a three-point play of his own at 2:57. Bjorklund got free again on the other end and it was 71-69, but Benson answered with two free throws for a four-point cushion, again.

“Let’s face it, they’re extremely good,” Phillips said. “You need something to go a little bit wrong for them.”

Not enough went wrong. Wright, a veteran player who is returning from an injury and yet can’t crack the starting lineup, was 4 of 4 from 3-point range. The Grizzlies shot 53 percent, although Kampe said it didn’t feel like it.

“We’re a deep team,” Benson said. “When some of us are struggling, others will pick it up. We carry each other well.”

NDSU had four players in double figures. Bjorklund was 9 of 14 from the field and NDSU outrebounded the Grizzlies 40-33.

“We have to get eight points better by tournament time,” Phillips said.

OU (14-8, 9-0 Summit): Hudson 3-7 2-7 8, Valentine 5-7 0-1 11, Benson 8-15 5-8 21, Bader 2-5 1-1 6, Hamilton 4-9 2-2 10, Wright 7-12 2-2 20, Bass 3-4 0-0 7, Milutinovic 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 32-60 12-21 83.

NDSU (9-10, 3-6 Summit): Tveidt 4-9 3-4 11, Carlson 5-7 1-2 11, Bjorklund 9-14 3-6 21, Coleman 5-14 0-0 10, Braun 3-8 2-2 8, Felt 1-4 0-0 3, Lundberg 5-10 0-0 10, Zastrow 0-1 0-0 0, Wright 0-1 0-0 0, Nagel 0-1 2-2 2. Totals:32-69 11-16 76 .

Halftime: OU 34, NDSU 28. Total fouls: OU 20, NDSU 20. Fouled out: Braun, Benson. Technical foul: OU coach Kampe. Rebounds: OU 33 (Benson 11); NDSU 40 (Braun 9). 3-point goals: OU 7-16 (Valentine 1-3, Benson 0-1, Bader 1-4, Hamilton 0-3, Bass 1-1, Wright 4-4); NDSU 1-14 (Tveidt 0-3, Coleman 0-3, Braun 0-3, Felt 1-2, Zastrow 0-1, Wright 0-1). Assists: OU 12 (Hamilton 3); NDSU 7 (Tveidt 3). Turnovers: OU 13 (Benson, Hamilton 3); NDSU 13 (Coleman 5). A-3,761.

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be heard on the Saturday Morning Sports Show, 9-11 a.m. on WDAY-AM (970). He can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia