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Oakland beats Kentucky, the first true shock of March Madness, and MSU tops Mississippi State

Oakland's Jack Gohlke (3) reacts after hitting a 3-point shot against Kentucky during the second half of a college basketball game in the first round of the men's NCAA Tournament on Thursday, March 21, 2024, in Pittsburgh.
Matt Freed/AP
FR171937 AP
Oakland's Jack Gohlke (3) reacts after hitting a 3-point shot against Kentucky during the second half of a college basketball game in the first round of the men's NCAA Tournament on Thursday, March 21, 2024, in Pittsburgh. Gohlke made 10 3-pointers and 14th-seeded Oakland delivered the first true shock of this year’s March Madness, beating third-seeded Kentucky 80-76 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Jack Gohlke has no illusions of going to the NBA. Guys who spend five years in Division II before transferring to a small D-I program with one NCAA Tournament win in its history typically don't head to the pros.

Don't mistake that practicality with a lack of belief in his abilities. Or those of his team. Gohlke and his Oakland teammates have felt all season they could hang with anybody on a given night.

Any given night turned into Thursday, when the 6-foot-3 graduate transfer and the commuter school located 30 miles from downtown Detroit showed Kentucky and the country what it takes to win in March.

Confident at the start and cool at the finish, Gohlke made 10 3-pointers and scored a career-high 32 points as the 14th-seeded Golden Grizzlies delivered the first true shock of this year's March Madness, beating the third-seeded Wildcats 80-76.

“We've been a solid team all year,” said Gohlke, who arrived at Oakland last fall after graduating from Hillsdale College. “We've won close games all year.”

Just never on this stage. Yet it was the Horizon League champion Grizzlies (24-11) and not the Wildcats (23-10) of the mighty Southeastern Conference who looked like they were prepared for the pressure of the one-and-done, anything-can-happen NCAA Tournament. Oakland will face 11th-seeded North Carolina State in the second round on Saturday, ensuring a double-digit seed will advance to the South Region semifinals.

Gohlke's shotmaking gave Oakland some swagger early. His teammates picked it up late when Kentucky went to a box-and-one in hopes of slowing him down.

Horizon League Player of the Year Trey Townsend had 17 points for Oakland. DQ Cole added 12, including a 3 from the corner with 28 seconds left that gave the Grizzlies a four-point lead. Oakland never trailed over the final 14:32 to send the Wildcats and coach John Calipari to another early tournament exit.

“To define their season and our season with this game, it’s the sport we’re in,” Calipari said. “It’s what we do.”

Antonio Reeves led Kentucky with 27 points. Tre Mitchell added 14 and Rob Dillingham scored 10, but the Wildcats and their roster stacked with potential NBA draft picks spent most of the night trying — and failing — to chase down Gohlke.

He made 10 of 20 3-point attempts, seven in the first half, to fall one short of Jeff Fryer's NCAA Tournament record, set in 1990 for Loyola Marymount. Gohlke's only other points came after he was fouled — while attempting a 3. Just another night for a player who appropriately wears No. 3 and had taken 335 shots from the field coming in, 327 of them from beyond the arc.

“It’s definitely a special thing, watching him just (make) 3 after 3 after 3,” Townsend said. "It gives us momentum and excitement to keep playing hard.”

The Wildcats came in as 13 1/2-point favorites, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, but instead lost to a double-digit seed for the second time in three seasons. In 2022, it was 15th-seeded Saint Peter's that sent the Wildcats home. This time it was a team led by the longest-tenured coach in the country.

Greg Kampe has spent 40 years at Oakland. And until the clock hit zero, the 68-year-old thought the biggest victory of his career had come in 2000, when the Grizzlies beat Michigan in the regular season.

There's a new No. 1.

“As soon as that horn went off, I changed my mind immediately,” Kampe said with a laugh before turning a little more serious. “We led the whole game and every time they got the lead, we came right back. If we were pretenders, we would have folded. We’re not pretenders. We believe we belong here.”

Oakland certainly looked the part. The Wildcats, not so much.

Calipari said his job is to take the pressure off his young roster's shoulders and place them on his. It must have felt awfully heavy at times while Gohlke and the Grizzlies kept pace with the second-highest-scoring team in the country.

Gohlke, who has the green light to take any shot from deep, won the Horizon League's Sixth Man of the Year award after averaging 12 points off the bench. He boosted his 3-point total to an NCAA-leading 131 this season. Seven of his 10 against the Wildcats came during an electric first half that had the majority of fans at PPG Paints Arena on their feet and the Wildcats on their heels.

Gohlke stuck out his tongue after his fifth 3. When his sixth fell through the net, he turned around and mimicked Michael Jordan's shoulder shrug during the 1992 NBA finals. Gohlke then banked in his seventh as the Grizzlies built a 38-35 halftime lead that had everyone in the crowd not wearing Kentucky blue roaring, just as Kampe hoped.

The roars only grew louder in the final moments, when Gohlke ended the game with the ball in his hands after one final Kentucky miss as the Grizzlies became the 23rd 14 seed to win a first-round game since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

Gohlke, whose coach laughed when it was suggested he had become an overnight celebrity, is hardly interested in being a one-game wonder.

“We're definitely not done yet,” he said.


Meanwhile, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo won his 20th first-round game in the NCAA Tournament on Thursday.

This one, he said, might have been the most impressive, even to former Spartans greats like Draymond Green.

Tyson Walker scored 19 points and the ninth-seeded Spartans improved to 20-6 in March Madness openers under Izzo with a 69-51 win over eighth-seeded Mississippi State on Thursday. It was Izzo's 26th straight NCAA Tournament appearance — an NCAA Division I record for a coach at one school.

“I thought this was one of the better first game performances of a team that was, and deservedly so, seeded a little lower,” Izzo said. “We brought everything from the get-go. We moved the ball well. We shot the ball well. We rebounded the ball.”

Izzo's win was his 56th overall in the tournament, trailing only three coaches for victories at one school. He noted that while the game was sloppy at times, former players Green, Mateen Cleaves and Morris Peterson would have enjoyed the “tough, rugged nature” of the Spartans' win.

Jaden Akins added 15 points and seven rebounds and Malik Hall scored 10 points for Michigan State (20-14), which will face top-seeded North Carolina on Saturday.

Akins believes having Izzo on the bench is a huge advantage because of the adjustments he makes.

“Coach has been in this situation,” Akins said. “He always talks about experience is the best thing to have, and he has a lot of that in this tournament. So we’ve got all the faith in him to put us in a position, and we just got to go out and do what we do.”

Freshman Josh Hubbard scored 15 points for the Mississippi State (21-14), which hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 2021. Hubbard was limited to two points in the second half as the Spartans wouldn't let the Bulldogs' young standout shake free.

“I think just trying to make every catch, be there on every catch, every shot contested,” Walker said of defending Hubbard. “First half he got it going. Then we kind of second half just locked in more and contested every shot he took, made sure they were further out, not let him get any easy ones.”

Both teams entered the tournament having lost five of seven games.

The Spartans, who led wire to wire, pushed the tempo early and jumped out to an 20-8 lead after hitting 4 of 7 shots from beyond the arc, including two from Walker.

“You have to give credit to Michigan State, but we put ourselves in some tough spots with our turnovers and got off to a really poor start," Bulldogs coach Chris Jans said.

The Bulldogs closed the gap to seven at halftime behind Hubbard.

But the Spartans began to pull away early in the second half, extending the lead to 14 with the help of Walker, who finished 7 of 12 from the field.

Down by double digits midway through the second half, the Bulldogs went to a half-court trap and found some success at first, turning over the Spartans twice. But Michigan State quickly settled down. Xavier Booker and Tre Holloman hit 3s before Walker connected on another 3 from the right wing to push the lead to 17 with less than five minutes to go.

“We always go over our press breakers,” Walker said. “We call it special teams. Just being prepared. Just knowing where you’re supposed to be.”

As the Bulldogs were attempting to make a late comeback, the Spartans corralled two offensive rebounds to keep possessions alive and burn time off the clock.

Michigan State held a 35-29 edge on the glass.

“The game was won with rebounding,” Izzo said.

The Associated Press is an independent global news organization dedicated to factual reporting.
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