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Ohio University's Yaya Felder (2) in between two Eastern Michigan defenders at the Convocation Center on March 4, 2023.

Basketball column: The MAC's best player was voted to the Second Team

Ohio guard Yaya Felder finished the season as the Mid-American Conference's leading scorer, third in assists per game, third in steals per game, eighth in field goal percentage, 16th and 17th in 3-point percentage and free throw percentage, respectively and 25th in rebounds per game. 

For her efforts, the MAC's coaches voted Felder to the All-MAC Second Team behind five players, all of whom finished with fewer points per game and fewer assists per game than Felder.

Statistically speaking Felder was the best player in the conference and had one of the best seasons in recent memory. Felder was the first player in the MAC to average four or more points a game than the next leading scorer in the conference (minimum 20 games played) since the 2017-18 season. Felder is the first player to finish as the conference's leading scorer and Top 3 in the conference in assists per game since the 2018-19 season. 

Felder's impact on the Bobcats cannot be understated. She started all 29 games, was the focal point of the Bobcats' offense, averaging 22 points per game. She actively got her teammates involved and averaged 4.1 assists per game and made plays defensively with two steals per game.

Even in a slightly disappointing year as a team, Felder delivered signature performances to carry the Bobcats to victory. Felder had 28 points in the Bobcats' overtime win against Miami on the road. Also, she made a game-winning layup to cap a 23-point performance against Northern Illinois. In her first start with Jaya McClure against Central Michigan, Felder had 32 points and 11 rebounds. 

The black mark on Felder's resume that undoubtedly held her back from higher praise was Ohio's lack of success as a team. The best performances in MAC play often came from Felder in Ohio's losses. In different Ohio losses, Felder had point totals that included 40, 35, 33 and 32 points. Felder's historic performance against Central Michigan on Jan. 25 encapsulates the problem of conflating a team's success with the abilities of a player. Felder scored 40 points — the most points any player has scored in a single game all season — grabbed five rebounds and had three assists, but because the rest of the team shot a combined 25% from field goal range, Ohio lost the game by three points.

Some naysayers might question how much impact a player could have if her team finishes last in the conference. However, Ohio's poor finish in conference play needs to be put into context. Ohio's intense roster turnover caused the team to struggle early in the season, as expected, but Felder and the rest of the team started to turn around the season. 

After a 1-7 start in the conference, the Bobcats became a competitive team in the MAC. They won three of six games and looked poised to make a run at the MAC Tournament. Right as the Bobcats made steps in the right direction, they lost leading minutes-getter Caitlyn Kroll to a season-ending injury. Midway through the Bobcats' game against the RedHawks on March 1, Abby Garnett suffered an injury that kept her out of the game. Felder led a very limited group of Bobcats with 32 points, but the team lost by six.

Felder's 45.7% field goal percentage and third-best assist per game mark prove she wasn't just racking up meaningless stats for a MAC bottom dweller. Felder was simply the league's best offensive player that happened to play for the Conference's worst team. 

Frankly, Felder missing out on the MAC Player of the Year is perhaps an incorrect decision, but it is understandable given Ohio's record. However, the nation's eighth leading scorer and conference's most impactful player having to settle for All-MAC second team is an unjustifiable miss from MAC coaches.


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