After two semifinal contests that only players’ family members could have enjoyed, the conferences’ two best teams will go at it Tuesday night for the Summit League tournament championship. Oakland (24-9, 17-1) has been a dominant force in the conference all season and it continued on Monday night as the Grizzlies overwhelmed South Dakota State to reach the finals. All five starters scored in double digits in the 110-90 victory and Oakland once again showcased that it is playing at its peak ability at the perfect time of the season. The Grizzlies have an athletic advantage over every team in the Summit and they have exploited it well all season, making them the prohibitive favorite on Tuesday night.
Their opponent will be Oral Roberts (18-14, 13-5), who defeated IUPUI 83-77 in the semifinals. The Golden Eagles led by a double digit margin for most of the game, before withstanding a late rally by the Jaguars to move to the championship game. Forward Dominique Morrison again continued his impressive play, scoring 26 points in the victory. As has been the case all season, when Morrison is able to be aggressive and get to the foul line (he had 13 free throws versus IUPUI), Oral Roberts creates matchup problems that make the team difficult to defend. Morrison was aided by the play of guard Warren Niles, who added 20 points, including two key baskets late to stop the IUPUI run.
Oakland and Oral Roberts have met two times this season and both games were battles until the end. The deciding factor in the meetings was the play of Grizzlies’ star Keith Benson, who averaged 20 points and 12 rebounds over the two games. Both of the first two matchups were decided within the final minute and in both games, Benson dominated play on both the offensive and defensive end. Benson is a future NBA player and the Grizzlies have not been able to find an answer for him throughout his career.
Oakland believes this is the team's season to not only win the conference championship, but potentially pull a surprise in the NCAA tournament. But for that to happen, the Grizzlies must first win their third game of the season over Oral Roberts and not suffer the fate of the many other conference regular season winners who have been defeated in tournament finals thus far this postseason.
Posted by MATT JONES