With a career-high 27 points, Cassie Schrock carried Eastern Michigan University to a 66-56 victory over the visiting University of Buffalo on Saturday, helping advance her team to the quarterfinals of the Mid-American Conference tournament.
Schrock is now fewer than 50 points away from becoming one of a handful of EMU athletes to score 1,000 career points. She had a productive game from start to finish, with three steals and two three-pointers in the first half.
“She played like a senior today, even though she’s just a junior, she got a career high and she made her free throws, an area where she’s been struggling,” EMU coach AnnMarie Gilbert said. “It just told me she was completely focused. She was the one kid who promised me we would win this basketball game and get out of the first round, and we did.”
The Eagles now will head to Cleveland on Wednesday, where they will face No. 4 seed Akron (17-12) at 6 p.m.
“It’s a season of many firsts, and I don’t want it to end for them,” Gilbert said.
Both EMU and Akron have had major turnaround seasons this year.
“I expect them to be ready to go, they’re coming off the best season they’ve had in their school’s history,” Gilbert said. EMU will have to be ready from the tip against Akron, Gilbert said.
“I don’t know that we were ready when this basketball game started. If we were, it didn’t reflect that way, and I know we were well prepared, but we just didn’t play with urgency,” she said.
“Buffalo snuck in and jumped on us, and teams can come from behind, that’s the way we lost to Akron,” she said. “We had a 15-20 point lead at our place, and Akron erased that lead and ended up beating us, and it was very disappointing.”
The Eagles won’t want to repeat their mistakes from Saturday’s game.
“Once you get a lead you’ve gotta jump on them, and you’ve gotta stomp on them, and take them out of having any hope that they have a chance to beat you. We didn’t do that today, but we’re gonna need to take that lesson into Cleveland,” Gilbert said.
“They’re gonna be ready for our up-tempo style of play. I thought Buffalo turned our style on us. We’re up tempo and what they did was jump out and push the ball at us and the teams that have done that, have beat us. Akron did that to us but we’ll be ready the second time around.”
EMU (22-7 and a No. 5 seed) came out scoring from the tip-off, as Chenise Miller scored a layup off a Lindsey Mahone pass to start the game. The Eagles kept the lead throughout the first half, gaining an eight-point lead with about 10 minutes left in the half and finishing the half ahead 30-25.
Junior Sydney Huntley was a spark off the bench. Huntley’s defense got her a steal and a defensive rebound, and minutes later she added a layup off a fast break, and an assist.
Going into the locker room at halftime, the Eagles seemed to have the game in their control.
“I told them not to become complacent with that five-point lead because this was a Buffalo team that would refuse to lose,” Gilbert said.
However, the team’s offense came back cold, and EMU started to feel the heat from the Bulls (7-23). In the first three minutes of the second half, Buffalo claimed the lead and EMU had to play hard for the rest of the competition.
“This was one of our worst conference games… the worst of all 17 conference games,” Gilbert said. “There were some nerves, there was a little pressure because we’ve never won a first round tournament game.”
Also, Buffalo (a No. 12 seed) is a tough competitor, and its center, Kourtney Brown, is a strong player who had 25 points and 10 rebounds against EMU when they met earlier this season, Gilbert said.
“We actually held her this time, to 19 points, but still she had 16 rebounds,” Gilbert said. “She was doing everything she could to will her team to victory. I don’t think we were complacent coming out the second half, but I think Buffalo had a lot more intensity than we did.”
Frustration with shooting difficulties led to a defensive breakdown for EMU and an easy layup for the Bulls Brittany Hedderson, which gave Buffalo a seven-point lead. Gilbert quickly called a timeout.
“This team was killing us on the boards, they were outrebounding us and outhustling us, and I tried to continue to substitute different players in until we found a group that would be first to hustle … I think we outhustled Buffalo down the stretch,” Gilbert said.
The Eagles lacked a sense of urgency.
“I was just trying to tell the girls, ‘C’mon, we’re not ending our season like that. We can’t let this be our last game. We’ve gotta pick up the play,’ and that’s what we did.”
Gilbert said, “Cassie Schrock is the glue that holds this team together, as a junior, and when she was a sophomore, and when she was a freshman. She has been a three-year kid, who will become a four-year kid, who is a coach on the floor for this basketball team, so whatever I’m thinking, she carries that message to the team, and I’m so proud to have her,”
Although the Eagles continued to struggle after the timeout, they turned up the defense and permanently regained the lead with about 4:45 left. Schrock continued to have the steady hand and converted a string of third-point opportunities off free throws.
Schrock has a lot of veteran toughness, especially for a junior, and her experience made a difference Saturday, Gilbert said.
“Schrock has really been struggling with her own game, but one thing I think she took advantage of was the fact that Buffalo took Tavelyn James, our leading scorer, out of the game, and in the past when that has happened, Schrock would lay back and let the game come to her,” Gilbert said. “I think she just put the team on her back and said ‘Hey, our leading scorer is not with us today, I’m gonna carry the team.’ ”
The Eagles are a young team, with only two seniors, but the underclassmen are coming through.
“I have one of the best teams in the conference. This is a young team that is getting the job done … 22 wins, that’s a significant accomplishment,” Gilbert said.
Freshman Lindsey Mahone contributed nine points, 10 rebounds, four assists and four steals and was a catalyst on defense. With about nine minutes left in the game Mahone grabbed back-to-back steals, resulting in an assist to James for two points to tie the game 49-49, followed by a fast-break layup of her own to take a two-point lead.
“I thought she brought excitement back to the Convocation Center, with the dives on the floor,” Gilbert said. “You need a player that will take on the tough stuff and Mahone did that.”
Sophomore Tavelyn James, who averages 20.6 points, was going 8 for10 on free throws and finished with 14 points. James is just six points shy of setting the EMU single-season record for points and has already scored 1,000 career points. She set the single-game record for points against Buffalo earlier this season, becoming the first EMU women’s basketball player to score 40 points.
Freshmen Cherise Miller and India Hairston contributed to the win, especially on the defensive end with blocks and rebounds. Sophomore Paige Redditt, who had four fouls at the time, took a charge toward the end of the game. “She put the team before herself and I thought that was just outstanding,” Gilbert said.
From that moment EMU continued to build on its 58-53 lead. With less than four minutes remaining, Schrock faked a handoff and split the defense for two points to help secure the win. Mahone and Schrock also made defensive stops at the end of the game.
“We got a few big steals right at the end that put us up big,” Schrock said. “That gave us that momentum. Lindsey had a steal, I think, I had a steal, and we both got stuff to Tavelyn for layups, so that definitely gave us a little edge. That’s definitely what sealed the game for us.”
Buffalo scored only three points the last six minutes of the game, Gilbert said.
“That’s the kind of defense we play,” she said. “It’s unfortunate it took, you know, that long – 34 minutes – for us to start playing defense, but it kicked in.”