Playing for the first time without Player of the Year front-runner Denzel Valentine, No. 1 Michigan State rallied in the second half to beat Oakland, 99-93, in overtime at the Palace in Auburn Hills on Tuesday night.
The Spartans (13-0) trailed, 50-37, at the break as they looked like they were in real trouble for much of the game. Senior guard Bryn Forbes stepped up in a major way and scored 32 points while going 7-for-9 from 3-point range to help carry Michigan State.
Oakland (7-4) had a huge first half from junior point guard Kay Felder, as he went for 21 points, seven assists, two steals and zero turnovers, but the Spartans defense did a better job of slowing him down in the second half. Felder, the nation’s second-leading scorer and leader in assists, finished with 37 points and nine assists on the night while going 10-for-23 from the field and 14-for-18 from the free-throw line. After shooting 8-for-14 in the first half, Felder slowed down from the field, but stayed aggressive in getting to the free-throw line frequently. Jalen Hayes added 16 points and 11 rebounds and Sherron Dorsey-Walker added 13 points in the loss for Oakland.
Felder nailed a step-back 3-pointer and the game-tying free throws in the game’s final 30 seconds to help force the overtime.
On the surface, one might think that Michigan State is in trouble without Valentine, since they had so many problems with a Horizon League program, but Oakland head coach Greg Kampe always has his team play a tough non-conference schedule and Felder is a legitimate All-American candidate. Oakland has played Michigan State tough in the past and the Golden Grizzlies — who were 2-9 at the time — only lost by four points to then No. 5 Michigan State only two years ago. Many of Oakland’s players look at the Michigan State game as an opportunity to stick it to the in-state juggernaut that didn’t recruit them.
As for Michigan State, the first-half defense was certainly concerning, but credit the Spartans for having a good gameplan on Felder in the second half and slowing him down enough to make a comeback. The hot first-half perimeter shooting from Oakland was also slowed down as they started 7-for-12 from 3-point range in the first half before finishing 8-for-22 from distance.
It was also encouraging for Michigan State that West Virginia transfer Eron Harris stepped up as he finished with 27 points, five rebounds and five assists. Harris played his best game as a Spartan and if he can step up and provide a scoring lift, that should really help the Michigan State offense not only while Valentine is out, but also when he comes back in a few weeks.
While this is a tough loss for Oakland, they certainly looked like a team that will compete with Valparaiso for the Horizon League crown this season. Felder is a star and he’s surrounded by a decent supporting cast that knows how to play around him. They’ll be a mid-major team to keep track of the rest of the season and Felder is appointment television if you get the chance to see him play again.