The road back to the friendly confines of the O'rena for a home game had been a long one for Oakland University, as a seven-game road trip had sent the Golden Grizzlies criss-crossing the country in recent weeks with more than 10,000 miles traveled.
On the docket Thursday night was the annual meeting with local rival Rochester College, which meant the anticipated return of a familiar face in former Oakland forward Drew Maynard, now with the Warriors for his senior season.
The Grizzlies were at times threatened by arguably the most formidable team Rochester College has ever fielded, but took charge of the game once and for all in the closing minutes of the first half. Oakland prevailed 88-77 to snap a three-game losing skid.
"I'm very pleased with the win tonight," Grizzlies coach Greg Kampe said, now in his 28th season at Oakland. "We beat a very good team and I think we beat them handily, which we needed to do."
Junior Travis Bader led the offensive attack for the Grizzlies, as he sunk 6-of-8 3-point attempts and posted his most consistent performance of the season with 32 points.
Oakland (3-6) also received significant a contribution from sophomore center Corey Petros (Utica Eisenhower), who tied his career high of 23 points and shot a perfect 8-of-8 from the field.
"We saw him last year start (the season) well and then wear down. One of our focuses this offseason was strength," Kampe said, noting the team-wide improvement this offseason under a new strength and conditioning coach.
"I think that (added) strength has really helped Corey, especially tonight with those little guys they had hanging on him. He was able to fight through that and get to the free-throw line 11 times."
The game remained close at the 5:39 mark of the first half, with Rochester College hanging within three points of Oakland, down 27-24. But 11-straight points by the Grizzlies as part of a 16-1 scoring run to end the half put considerable distance on the scoreboard going into the break.
"Their school is 10 minutes down the road and Drew Maynard used to play here — everybody knows who Drew Maynard is — so they wanted to win. They were coming in to play us the way we play against Michigan State," Bader said.
The Grizzlies expanded their lead to as many as 28 points midway through the second half before Rochester College closed the gap down the stretch.
"Tonight, to have one of these kind of games, to play good defense, and have a guy like Matt Poches come in and step up and us to knock down some shots, it's really good for us."
Maynard, who played two and a half seasons at Oakland before leaving the program in December 2010, was held in check during the first half, managing just three free throws. But the 6-foot-7 forward from Lake Orion found second-half success with nine field goals to finish with 22 points and a game-high 11 rebounds.
"One of the things (Maynard) didn't do when he was here is defensive rebounding," Kampe said of his former player. "(Rochester College coach) Klint (Pleasant) must be a heck of a lot better coach than I am because he's got that young man rebounding now."
Oakland's win improved its all-time record against the Warriors to 14-0, but the games have grown more competitive in recent seasons. Rochester College picked up its first-ever win against a Division 1 opponent on Nov. 21 with a road win over Eastern Illinois.
"I really care a lot about Rochester College and the Pleasant family," Kampe said. "I cheer for them. We talked about Drew (potentially transferring to Rochester College) and I really thought he could do a heck of a job for them. I'm really happy that Drew has it turned around and is going in the right direction."
Also contributing to the scoring for Rochester College (11-5) on Thursday were senior Dramell Hogan (19 points) and junior Stavros Schizas (16 points, four assists).
Oakland will be back on the road Saturday against the University of Ohio for the rubber match of a three-game series played over the past three seasons. Oakland defeated the Bobcats two years ago, while Ohio returned the favor at the O'rena last season.