Oakland 79, Alabama A&M 69

Updated: March 16, 2005, 1:44 PM ET
Associated Press

DAYTON, Ohio -- Oakland can still finish the season with a winning record.

All the 13-18 Golden Grizzlies have to do is beat top-seeded North Carolina in the Tar Heels' home state, and then pull off another five upsets during the next three weeks.

"If we win the national championship, we'll finally get to 19-18," coach Greg Kampe said with a laugh.

The Golden Grizzlies took the first step Tuesday night at the University of Dayton, beating Alabama A&M 79-69 in the NCAA opening-round game behind Rawle Marshall's 29 points and Cortney Scott's 21.

Oakland (13-18) won its sixth straight game, including three upsets in as many days last week by a combined seven points to take the Mid-Continent Conference title and earn a berth in the field of 65.

"There was a whole lot of adversity during the season," said Brandon Cassise, who added 13 points. "It brought us together. That's why we've played so well in these do-or-die games."

The turnaround is almost incomprehensible for a team that was 7-18 and riding a three-game skid just 18 days earlier. Almost as incredible, Oakland opened the season 0-7, losing by an average of 13 points a game, against Illinois, Marquette, Xavier, Missouri, Texas A&M, Kansas State and Saint Louis.

The Golden Grizzlies became only the fifth team with a losing record to win an NCAA tournament game, joining Florida A&M (2004), UNC-Asheville (2003) and Siena (2002) -- all at Dayton -- and Bradley (1955).

Obie Trotter scored 24 points and Joseph Martin added 22 for Alabama A&M (18-14), the Southwestern Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament champs.

A&M coach L. Vann Pettaway said his team was worn out from playing four games in six days, winning the conference tournament Sunday before hitting the road less than 24 hours later to make it to Dayton.

"We want to get back to the big dance, but we want to dance when we're rested," he said.

Both teams were making their first appearance in the NCAA tournament. Oakland made the jump from Division II to Division I in the 1997-98 season.

As the Golden Grizzlies stretched the lead to 21 points with 5 minutes left, the emboldened Oakland student section began chanting, "We want Tar Heels! We want Tar Heels!"

"This is surreal," Cassise said. "I can't believe it's all happening."

Marshall, a wiry 6-foot-7 senior swingman expected to be taken in the NBA draft this spring, also had nine rebounds and three assists.

His most dramatic play came in the opening half when he took a pass on the right elbow, pump-faked a defender off his feet and then sliced through the lane for a soaring dunk and foul. A crowd of 8,254 roared its approval.

Ahead 38-35 at the break, Oakland scored 16 of the first 18 points in the second half.

Patrick McCloskey, who had no points and two rebounds in 12 first-half minutes, led the surge with five points, five rebounds and a blocked shot. The 260-pound Scott, a transfer from Iowa, added four points on two twisting inside moves, Cassise came off the bench for two baskets and Marshall hit a 3-pointer.

"It took us a while to learn how to play against their speed," Kampe said. "We completely controlled the tempo the rest of the game."

Ahead 54-37, Oakland's lead never dropped below double digits again.

"There can't be too many colleges who can say they won a game in the NCAA tournament," a grinning Marshall said. "We'll ride this momentum and see how far it takes us."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

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