ROCHESTER, Mich. (AP) — Last season, Oakland beating Tennessee was an upset.
This year, the Golden Grizzlies expected it.
One season after an 89-82 victory in Knoxville — Oakland’s first win over a Top 10 team — the Grizzlies beat the Volunteers 89-81 Monday night behind 35 points from Reggie Hamilton.
“This program is now to a point where we think we can play with anyone in the country, and if we get them here, we can beat anyone in the country,” said Oakland coach Greg Kampe. “That wasn’t true 10 years ago, and that shows you the progress we’ve made since we moved to Division I.”
Oakland has won the Summit League tournament the last two seasons, but before Monday, it had multiple wins over only one major-conference school. The Golden Grizzlies beat Oregon in 2007 and 2008.
“I think I’m more excited this time than I was a year ago,” Hamilton said. “Last year we had an NBA player in Keith Benson and another pro prospect in Will Hudson. With those guys gone, no one expected us to be good again this year.”
Oakland normally plays marquee opponents at the nearby Palace of Auburn Hills, so this was just its sixth game against a major-conference opponent at the 4,000-seat O’Rena, and the first in seven years. The Grizzlies are 3-3 in such games, having also beaten Michigan in 2000 and Texas A&M in 2003.
“I played in Big Ten country, so I knew what to expect when we came into this building,” said first-year Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin.
“It was an incredible atmosphere, and you could tell that Oakland’s players fed off it.”
Kampe knows that the game, which drew 3,755, will make it harder to get another big school to come to Oakland’s campus, about 30 miles north of Detroit. The Golden Grizzlies have won 43 of their last 45 home games.
“Our fans expected us to win this game, and our fans made sure we did win this game,” Kampe said. “We were on national TV tonight, and we wanted to show Oakland basketball to the world.
“Our student section was unbelievable, and our fans were unbelievable. That’s why we won this game.”
Drew Valentine scored 15 points for Oakland, and Laval Lucas-Perry had 14. The Grizzlies shot 91 percent (28 of 31) from the free throw line and pulled down 17 offensive rebounds to Tennessee’s 20 defensive rebounds.
“Oakland did a great job of attacking the boards, but we could have done a better job of stopping them,” Martin said. “It is just a matter of putting a body on people, and we didn’t do that.”
Jordan McRae led the Volunteers with 25, while Cameron Tatum had 19.
Jeronne Maymon, who had 32 points and 20 rebounds against Memphis in Maui, finished with eight points and six rebounds.
“I saw what Maymon did in Maui, so I knew I was going to have a tough time against him,” Valentine said. “I pride myself on defense, especially off the ball, and I did everything I could tonight. Believe me, I got a lot of help.”
Oakland led 62-52 with 10:15 to play, but the Volunteers scored the next seven points to get back into the game. Hamilton answered with a 3-pointer and a layup to move the margin to eight, and the Grizzlies got a break when Kenny Hall’s tip-in came to a stop on the back of the rim.
“I didn’t tell myself that I needed to take over the game — I just wanted to get back into the flow,” said Hamilton, whose eight points came immediately after a rest. “My teammates got the ball in a position to score, and I finished it off.”
Valentine then hit a 3-pointer that gave Oakland a 73-65 lead with 3:51 to play, and the Golden Grizzlies grabbed enough offensive rebounds to hold off the Volunteers down the stretch.
The Grizzlies retired Benson’s No. 34 jersey at halftime. Benson, who had 20 points and 10 rebounds in last year’s upset of the Volunteers, became Oakland’s first draft pick when he was taken by the Atlanta Hawks in June.
“We loved having Keith here — you can tell that from what we did at halftime,” Kampe said. “But we won a lot of games before Keith Benson played here, and we’re going to win a lot of games after him. That’s the way we have built this program.”
(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)