MILWAUKEE — Oakland’s Kay Felder and Milwaukee’s Jordan Johnson have plenty in common.
Both guards stand 5 feet 9 inches tall. Both play for Horizon League programs. Both are the Division I leaders in assists per game.
Felder boasts the nation’s top mark with 8.9 dimes per contest. Johnson sits slightly behind with eight assists per night.
The point guard pair squared off Monday at UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena as Oakland knocked off Milwaukee, 82-79. Felder posted 17 points, 12 assists and three steals before fouling out with 3:19 remaining. Johnson recorded 20 points, nine assists and six rebounds.
These point guards are not carbon copies. Felder has a stronger build while Johnson has an edge in speed. Fel
der is one of the nation’s best scorers at 25.3 points per game while Johnson posts a respectable, but unremarkable, 12.3 points per contest.
However, one more quality the point guards proved they share Monday is they are the focal points of their corresponding squads. Both players displayed that from the start of their head-to-head battle, each having a hand in their respective teams’ first 11 points.
Felder began the game with two 3-pointers and a two-handed dunk after his own steal. He then found shooting guard Nick Daniels for another trey, marking Felder’s first assist of the night.
Johnson retaliated with six points and two assists in the first six minutes, including a nifty split of a double team for a layup and a flashy dump-off to forward Brett Prahl on a fast break.
While neither player kept up such an astonishing pace, the matchup lived up to the hype despite each player having a fairly average game by their high standards.
“They’re two outstanding players, two of the best point guards in the country,” Kampe said.
Felder notched his 10th double-double of the season but struggled scoring-wise with 6-of-18 shooting.
Johnson dominated the first half, getting to the foul line 12 times. However, Oakland adjusted its ball-screen defense in the second half and held Johnson to two points and one assist in the final 16 minutes.
While Felder and Johnson are both juniors, Johnson is a newcomer to the Horizon League as a junior college transfer. He was ready to make an impact in his first meeting with the preseason Horizon League Player of the Year.
“I was really excited,”Johnson said. “I knew it was going to be a good matchup and a good game.”
After the game, both players had high praise for each other, as did their coaches.
Johnson has faced off against Notre Dame’s Demetrius Jackson and Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig. He says Felder is “up there” with those power-conference point guards.
“He’s really explosive. He can get his shot off really quick,” Johnson said.
With Johnson being new to the Horizon League, Oakland was not completely sure what to expect. The Golden Grizzlies could learn only so much from watching on film.
The initial game plan was to force Johnson to attack the Oakland bigs after coming off a ball screen. Johnson carved up the defense for 18 points and four assists in the first half.
“He’s a point guard, he’s a leader. I just love his game overall,” Felder said of Johnson. “He did the right things to put them in a position to win the game.”
Whether scoring or distributing, Johnson consistently made winning plays for Milwaukee.
After Johnson’s first half explosion scoring the ball, Kampe instructed his players at halftime to adjust the game plan and attack Johnson on ball screens, forcing him to give up the ball. Johnson had no problem doing just that, assisting on Milwaukee’s first five buckets of the second half, including four dimes in the first four minutes.
While Milwaukee executed its game plan of forcing Felder to take tough, mid-range jumpers, the Oakland guard also did not let a rough offensive stretch dictate the rest of his game.
Senior guard Max Hooper led Oakland with 21 points on seven 3-pointers. Felder assisted on six of them. The only time Hooper scored without Felder’s help was after the point guard had fouled out.
That came two days after Felder assisted on all nine of Hooper’s 3-point makes against Green Bay.
“This guy can really do a great job of delivering the ball,” Kampe said of Felder.
Milwaukee coach Rob Jeter was also impressed with Felder’s 12 assists and two turnovers.
“That’s a special night,” Jeter said.
Felder is not a secret to college basketball fans. He was the 2013-14 Horizon League Freshman of the Year. Last season, he earned All-Horizon League First Team and Mid-Major All-American honors. This season, he is in the national All-America and Player of the Year hunt.
Johnson remains largely unknown in his first Division I season.
Kampe was impressed by Johnson in game preparation to the point where he regarded the Milwaukee guard as one of college basketball’s best floor generals. Monday’s performance confirmed that in the coach’s eyes.
“I thought he was pretty good on film, and seeing him live I believe that,” Kampe said.