Last second foul spoils MAC opener for Eagles

Freshman guard Jalen Ross (21) calls out a play while head coach Rob Murphy (left) looks on.

One foul by senior center Da’Shonte Riley and two free throws by the Ball State University Cardinals turned overtime into a 60-58 loss for the Eastern Michigan University Eagles at the Convocation Center Wednesday night.

Wednesday’s game marked the beginning of Mid-American Conference play for both teams.

Despite the tough loss, EMU coach Rob Murphy had a few positive comments about the game and his team.

“I thought Derek Thompson was really aggressive, did some good things. Jamell Harris did a tremendous job playing defense, rebounding the ball,” Murphy said. “J.R. [Sims] did a great job playing the point when Jalen [Ross] struggled at times.”

Senior guard Thompson led a very balanced attack for the Eagles (7-8, 0-1 MAC) scoring 16 points on 3-for-8 shooting and 8-for-9 on free throws. Chipping in 12 points was redshirt junior forward Sims. Four other players scored between six and nine points.

The game started off with two steals taken coast-to-coast. One ended with a slam dunk, by redshirt junior Glenn Bryant.

The Cardinals (7-6, 1-0 MAC) came back strong, though and the game settled into a back-and-forth rhythm. The Eagles, after leading 4-2, didn’t lead again until they were up 19-17 with 9:46 to go in the first half but the lead never exceeded 7 in the first half.

Tensions hit a high point at the end of the first half when senior center Matt Balkema dove for a loose ball, heated words were exchanged, and both Balkema and the Cardinals’ Jesse Berry received technical fouls.

The Cardinals, aided by three long 3 point shots with the shot clock expiring, managed to take a solid 33-28 lead going into the break.

The Eagles defense seemed to struggle in the first half despite forcing ten turnovers and blocking two shots. The Cardinals shot a very strong 63.6 percent from the field in the first half, which included a stunning 55.6 percent on three point attempts.

Despite allowing a high shooting percentage, the Eagles offense kept the score tight to close the half by shooting 54.5 percent from the field.

The second half continued with much of the same. The Cardinals continued to hit their shots at an above average clip, but the Eagles answered nearly every time. The lead never grew past eight, when the Cardinals held a 56-48 edge with 4:26 to go in the game.

Things looked bleak for the Eagles, but the comeback began. Thompson scored six straight on a three pointer and three free throws, fueled by key rebounds by Harris.

After some stingy defense from the Eagles, led by Sims, the team got the ball back with 28 seconds to go. A layup by Sims and a defensive rebound by Bryant with 14 seconds to go set the stage for late game dramatics.

With a mere 8 seconds on the clock, true freshman guard Ross was fouled on a drive to the basket and had 2 free throws to attempt with his team down 58-56. Ross knocked down both high pressure shots to tie the game.

The Eagles furious comeback was denied when the ensuing inbounds pass was deflected, sealing the thrilling yet ultimately disappointing 60-58 loss.

The Cardinals, unlike the Eagles balanced offense, were led by a few outstanding performances. Chris Bond was the star of the game by scoring 18 points on perfect 8-for-8 shooting and hit the game winning free throws. Jauwan Scaife also scored 18 which included 4-for-8 on three point shots and two huge ones late in the shot clock in the first half.

Murphy only had praise for the Cardinals.

“I give a lot of credit to Ball State today, they came into our building, played extremely hard. [They] made some shots early, really long three point shots, contested three point shots. I thought they shot the ball extremely well, they rebounded the ball well,” he said.

A significant issue for the Eagles was rebounding. They were outrebounded by a 29-to-16 margin and received very little contribution from their big men. They also struggled with free throws, shooting only 12-of-19 (63.2 percent) and missed a few in key moments.

Despite their rebounding issues, the Eagles did force 19 turnovers, blocked four shots and created 14 steals. Also, breaking free of their season long shooting woes, the Eagles managed to shoot 21-for-41 (51.2 percent) from the floor.

The Cardinals finished with a 24-for-41 (58.5 percent) line from the floor, 6-of-15 (40 percent) from long distance and 6-for-10 (60 percent) from the free throw line. The Cardinals also edged the Eagles in assists, 18-to-12.

The next game for the Eagles comes on Saturday when the team travels to Bowling Green, Ohio to take on the Bowling Green State University Falcons. Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m. and the game will be carried live on WEMU 89.1 FM.

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