Felder shines for Oakland on big stage

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — Kay Felder doesn’t crave the attention. If he did he might not be at Oakland University.

But a lot of people across the state, and even the nation, are going to know just who he is are after his majestic performance in Oakland’s 99-93 loss to Michigan State in overtime Tuesday night.

“He’s done this for three years,” Oakland coach Greg Kampe said, knowing that many in a packed media room couldn’t even tell you what class Felder is a part of. “And to do it against ... is there anybody that has a better reputation of playing defense and being able to stop a player than Michigan State?

“I would say no. If you’ve got somebody, shout it out.”

Felder came into the game as the nation’s leader in assists and runner-up in scoring, and he did nothing to hurt his numbers — and he just might have bolstered Oakland’s already-blossoming reputation in the process.

In the end, the Grizzlies finally fell to the Spartans, as they’ve done 13 times before. But as much as Kampe didn’t want to call this a “great” performance, because it was a loss, a 99-93 overtime defeat to Michigan State was nothing to spend the bus trip home to Rochester crying about.

Felder finished with 37 points, one short of the career high set in Saturday’s road win over Washington, before fouling out with 50 seconds left in overtime, taking a charge that elated the pro-Spartans crowd of 20,228 at The Palace, and ticked off the still-well-represented Oakland fan base.

It took everything Felder had to keep his composure right there, knowing it was no time or place to pout about it. He was by far the face of one of the best nights in Oakland University history — earlier in the day, the school signed a 10-year deal with Nike that’s one of the most lucrative in mid-major college history — and he could do nothing to harm that.

“I just had to be very poised in that situation, not let my teammates know that I’m rattled by that,” Felder said just outside the Pistons’ home locker room. “I think I handled it pretty good.”

On the next possession, Bryn Forbes, the star of the day for Michigan State, made the last of his seven 3-pointers, and the outcome of this thriller was more in focus than it had been all night.

Felder was amazing in the first half, throwing up high, arching shots — and watching them fall, one after another.

The second half, he wasn’t as on, and he’d love to have back that last layup of regulation, which, with five seconds left, hung on the rim but just wouldn’t fall — prompting Kampe, who craves a win over Michigan State perhaps as much as any, to hold his hands on his head for what seemed like forever.

“That close,” Kampe said.

Felder did make the two free throws to tie it and send the game to overtime, and MSU survived to start 13-0, best in program history.

Oakland isn’t MSU. It isn’t UM. It never will be, no matter how many strides the athletic department is making these days. But it wants to at least play like the state’s two powers, and with a player like Felder, this season should be fun. There’s another top-10 team looming later this month, Virginia which, no doubt will watch Tuesday’s film through the holidays.

Felder might have rushed a few shots in the second half, but he took some contested ones in the first, too, and he didn’t seem to miss. So that’s clearly nit-picking for a guy who was the story — the story on ESPNU, and the story for an amazing crowd that left about zero seats unoccupied the entire night.

“I wasn’t really going for points,” said Felder, who was at least able to crack a couple shy smiles after his performance. “I was just trying to do everything in my power just to get the win.”

That’s what he does every night, particularly with his passing game.

He had nine more assists to keep up his nation-leading pace. His 8.9 assists are first in the country, his 26.9 points second.

All this from a guy who wasn’t really recruited by the big schools. Kampe, off the top of his head, thinks he took a visit to St. Bonaventure, and maybe Southern Illinois, and that’s about it.

Oakland was on the Detroit Pershing standout early, and the Grizzlies were so committed, they even promised him the point when he got to campus — and were so willing to show their words was gold, they went without a point guard for the year before he arrived. Lucky for Oakland, the junior wanted to stay close to home, and family.

Oakland’s a big part of his family now, and how proud Grizzlies nation — rampant on Twitter on Tuesday night, with the #OUrstory hashtag -- must be today.

“Lebron (James) playing against Michigan State may not get the numbers that Lebron would normally get,” Kampe said. “We had 50 at halftime, and he had 20-something (21). To do that against Michigan State ...

“He’s something else.”