High-scoring Oakland U has high hopes in Horizon tournament
ROCHESTER, Mich. (AP) Back in December, Oakland University played Washington, Michigan State and Virginia within a two-week span, and Kay Felder scored at least 30 points in each game.
Earlier that month, the Golden Grizzlies had played at Georgia, and Felder scored 23 against the Bulldogs.
''We took almost every team down to the wire,'' he said.
That grueling schedule was a sign of what Oakland was capable of, and now the Grizzlies will try to earn another shot at a big-name program. If Oakland does make the NCAA Tournament, it will be one of the more compelling teams there, thanks to Felder, guard Max Hooper and coach Greg Kampe, who has helped the suburban Detroit school become home to high-scoring, fast-paced mid-major basketball.
Oakland plays Wright State on Monday night in the Horizon League semifinals in Detroit. If the Grizzlies can win that tournament, they'll advance to the NCAAs for the first time since 2011, when they were in the Summit League.
Oakland is the nation's highest-scoring team at 87.3 points per game, and Felder is a big reason why. He leads the country with 292 assists, and he's also averaging 24.4 points, ranking near the top in that category as well.
''We knew he was a fit,'' Kampe said. ''Did I think that he would put up video-game numbers? Did I think that he could lead the country in assists? Yes. Did I think he could lead the country in scoring? Yes. In the same year? No.''
The 5-foot-9 junior has started every game he's played in three seasons at Oakland. He scored 38 points in a win at Washington in December, then 37 in an overtime loss to Michigan State. Against a notoriously stingy Virginia team, he scored 30.
While Felder fills up the stat sheet, Hooper's approach is a bit more ... predictable. The 6-foot-6 senior has attempted 229 field goals this season - all from 3-point range. He's shooting 44.5 percent from beyond the arc, so why not stay there?
If he does shoot a 2-pointer at some point, there will probably be a pretty good reason.
''It's going to be a game-winning dunk, right?'' he joked. ''I just want to win. If I've got to shoot 10 2-pointers to win, I'll do it.''
In Oakland's final regular-season game Feb. 26, Hooper's father was in attendance. Chip Hooper was battling cancer, and the night was a memorable one for the family.
Chip Hooper died Saturday.
''He and his dad were really bound by basketball,'' Kampe said Friday. ''I really think that Max thinks having success, with all his dad did for him ... is like a tribute to his dad.''
Kampe is in his 32nd season as Oakland's coach. In Division I, only Jim Boeheim and Mike Krzyzewski have been at their current schools longer. Kampe's teams have put up big numbers offensively for a while. Travis Bader, who played for the Grizzlies from 2010-14, made 504 3-pointers to become Division I's career record holder.
Hooper won't be approaching that mark, but it's no surprise that such a unique player has found a home at Oakland. Kampe kind of hopes he never has to shoot a 2-pointer this season.
''Look at all the publicity it's gotten, not just for him but for everybody else on our team,'' Kampe said. ''In this day and age, publicity is good.''
Oakland may still cause a bit of geographical confusion - no, it's not in California - but among passionate college basketball fans, it has become a reasonably well-known program from a smaller conference. Every NCAA Tournament bid helps in that regard, although the pathway may be difficult this year. The top seed in the Horizon tournament is a Valparaiso team that has lost only five times this season and beat the Grizzlies twice.
''This is one of the best teams I've ever had,'' Kampe said. ''Unfortunately for us, Valpo's a top 25-30 team. So we weren't able to win the regular season because they're that good.''
If Felder comes back next season, however, expect more wins, more publicity - and, as always, a lot of points for Oakland.
''The future is tremendous for us,'' Kampe said. ''We've kind of been building for next year ... maybe got there a little quicker.''
Follow Noah Trister at www.Twitter.com/noahtrister