Eagles come up short against Grizzlies, 59-57

The Eastern Michigan University men’s basketball team lost a heartbreaker to the Oakland University Grizzlies Saturday, 59-57 in front of 830 devoted fans at the Convocation Center. Saturday’s loss is only the fifth loss of the year for the Eagles and the first in front of a home crowd.

“We planned on going 17-0 in this building,” EMU head coach Rob Murphy said after the game.

The game was sloppy from start to finish. The Eagles kept it close, but every time they would go on a run, the Grizzlies would answer right back.

“I’ve been doing this a long long time, it’s a getaway game,” Oakland University head coach Greg Kampe said. “You usually see sloppy games on a day like this, and boy did you see a real sloppy one.”

Murphy had good things to say about the Grizzlies (5-8).

“I give Oakland a lot of credit,” Murphy said. “They came in with a lot of energy.”

Leading the Eagles (6-5) in scoring was freshman point guard Jalen Ross with 17 points. Senior guard Derek Thompson was right behind him with 11 points and redshirt junior guard Daylen Harrison added 10 points.

Travis Bader was the key offensive player for Oakland. His 21 points were the most on the team.

Harrison got off to a slow start, going scoreless in the first half. Midway through the second half, Murphy had some words for Harrison and it appeared that they motivated the forward throughout the remainder of the game.

“With Daylen, he got more aggressive,” Murphy said. “I don’t think he’s as aggressive as he should be. He’s a versatile scorer and he’s confident, but he’s too unselfish … For our team to be good, he has to be aggressive sometimes.”

Turnovers were also a problem for the Eagles, as they committed 19 in the loss to OU. The Grizzlies, on the other hand, only had 11 turnovers.

“Those are just toughness plays,” Murphy said. “Turnovers have been a nightmare for us all season … You can’t win many basketball games with 19 turnovers, it just doesn’t happen.”

Senior center Matt Balkema also made his presence felt on the court in the loss to the Grizzlies. In 17 minutes off the bench, he only had two points and two rebounds, but his attitude on the court made an impact.

“We found out Matt Balkema came to play today,” Murphy said. “He did a great job defensively for us.”

The first half was slow for both teams, with the Grizzlies taking a 29-21 lead into the break. The Grizzlies were shooting 8 for 29 (27.6 percent) from the floor while the Eagles shot 9 of 23 (39.1 percent).

“We couldn’t get going until the second half,” Murphy said.

The last five minutes were definitely the most crucial of the game. Down 49-40, the Eagles began their comeback.

Following two good free throws from Jamell Harris and a steal by Ross, Thompson was able to make a huge three-pointer to bring the Eagles back to within five points of the Grizzlies.

After Harris fouled OU’s Raphael Carter, who only made one of his two free throws, OU’s Ryan Bass fouled Harris while he was attempting to shoot a three-pointer.

Harris made all three free throws, making the score 50-48 OU. Ross added another steal and was immediately fouled by Drew Valentine. He made both free throws to tie the score at 50 with 3:04 to go.

Both teams went back and forth over the next two minutes. Ross scored with 1:22 left, making the score 55-54 OU. Harris fouled OU’s Corey Petros with 49 seconds to go and Petros missed both free throws. Balkema was fouled by OU’s Carter while going up for a rebound attempt. Balkema missed both free throws, which could have given EMU the lead.

The Eagles lived and ultimately died by the free throw on Saturday. Murphy made it a point to mention that fact after the game.

“You have to step up and make free throws,” Murphy said. “That’s the bottom line. We step up and make those and possibly win the game.”

The Eagles, after tying the score on a J.R. Sims free throw, gave up the game-winning jumper to OU’s Bass with 1.3 seconds left.

The Eagles have a break for Christmas, before taking on Siena Heights University Dec. 28 at 4:00 p.m. at the Convocation Center. The results of the game can be found on The Eastern Echo website. You can also follow The Echo on Twitter TheEasternEcho or follow me AlWillmanEcho.

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