Tuesday was a good day for the Eastern Michigan University men’s basketball team. The team ended a four-game losing streak with a 58-52 win over Mid-American Conference rival, the Central Michigan University Chippewas.
“It was great to get our first win in conference today,” EMU coach Rob Murphy said.
Murphy was also pleased with the way his team performed against the visiting Chippewas (8-8, 1-2 MAC).
“I thought we defended the basketball well. [We] had 11 blocks, our interior defense was good when they got it in there and we defended the three-point line well,” Murphy said.
Freshman guard Jalen Ross led the way for the Eagles (8-9, 1-2 MAC) with 13 points. He shot 4-of-7 from the floor and 3-of-5 from three-point range. He also shot 2-of-4 from the free-throw line.
“I thought he [Ross] was good, he was solid. He stepped up and hit some big threes for us early,” Murphy said.
Murphy was impressed with the progress Ross has made so far this season.
“As a freshman he’s had his ups and downs, but today he played well and he’s getting better … he’s our best ball handler and best decision maker.”
For the Chippewas, Olivier Mbaigoto led the offense with 18 points on 8-of-15 shooting. He
missed the only three-pointer he shot and was 2-of-4 from the free-throw line.
Ross kick-started the Eagle offense with a three-pointer only 57 seconds into the game. Redshirt forward Glenn Bryant added two free throws shortly after to give the Eagles a 5-0 lead. Blake Hibbitts responded for the Chippewas with a three of his own, but the Eagles still had a two-point lead with 15:58 to go in the first half.
Coming out of the media timeout, senior forward Jamell Harris made a jumper, extending the Eagle lead to four. Mbaigoto turned the momentum in favor of CMU with a layup and then Kyle Randall added a three-pointer, turning the four-point deficit into a one-point lead for the Chippewas, 8-7.
With 11:22 to go, senior center Da’Shonte Riley fouled Mbaigoto, who made only one of his two free throws. Riley tied the score on the next possession with a commanding dunk. Redshirt junior guard, J.R. Sims, made a three-pointer off a Hibbitts turnover, and at the midway point of the first half, EMU led 12-9.
Then the Eagles turned up the heat. The team went on an 18-10 run to close out the half. At the break, the Eagles led 30-19.
At the half, EMU was 11-of-19 (57.9 percent) from the floor. The team also shot 5-of-6 (83.3 percent) from three-point range and 3-of-4 (75 percent) from the free-throw line.
CMU, on the other hand, did not shoot so well in the first half. The Chippewas shot a mere 7-of-20 (35 percent) from the floor. The real difference was the team’s 3-of-12 (25 percent) shooting from three-point range. The team also shot 2-of-4 (50 percent) from the free-throw line.
The Eagles put on a defensive clinic to start the second half, but couldn’t capitalize offensively: A steal from Harris ended in his turning the ball over to Mbaigoto; a good defensive rebound from Ross ended in a missed three-pointer from Bryant; and a rebound from Harris ended in a redshirt junior forward Daylen Harrison turnover. Despite those three possessions, the Eagles only gave up two points.
The Eagles tightened up their offense on the way to a win that was closer than it should have been.
The Eagles missed 13 free throws in the second half; free throws that could very well have changed the momentum entirely in the other direction.
“I thought in the last three minutes we just stepped to the free throw line … we left 14 points on the line, which you can’t do against good teams and if it’s a closer game,” Murphy said. “But we’ll continue to get better in those areas.”
The Eagles finished the game shooting 16-of-32 (50 percent) and 6-of-11 (54.5 percent) from three-point range, as opposed to the Chippewas shooting 19-of-59 (32.2 percent) and 6-of-26 (23.1 percent) from long distance.
The Eagles next take on the Miami University (Ohio) RedHawks on Saturday. Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m. at the Convocation Center.
The Eagles have not won against Miami since 1997.
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A loss, but also an $850,000 payday.