The Eastern Michigan University men’s basketball team ended its 2012-13 regular season Saturday with a 78-67 loss to Mid-American Conference opponent University of Toledo Rockets.
“I thought for sure coming into this game, I was super confident as a coach. After game planning, and practice and reviewing film and talking to our guys, I thought for sure we would win tonight…for sure,” EMU coach Rob Murphy said after the game. “And then we came out in the first half, the first nine minutes and played like I thought we would play. But any time you make a few mistakes, the doubt creeps back in when you haven’t had as much success and you haven’t been a huge part in winning, the doubt kind of creeps in in crunch times or times when it’s time to step up and make plays. I think that’s what happened tonight.”
Saturday was also Senior Day for the team’s three seniors: forward Jamell Harris, guard Derek Thompson and center Matt Balkema.
“We wanted to send Jamell, Matt and Derek out on a winning note…that didn’t happen,” Murphy said.
Thompson led the way for the Eagles (14-17, 7-9 MAC) with 25 points on 10-of-21 shooting and 5-of-10 from three-point range.
Redshirt junior forward Glenn Bryant scored 15 points, 12 of which he scored in the first half. Bryant was benched early in the second half due to coach’s decision.
Redshirt junior guard J.R. Sims rounded out EMU’s lead scorers with 12 points.
For the Rockets (15-13, 10-6 MAC), Dominique Buckley was the lead scorer with 21 points on 6-of-13 shooting including 5-of-12 from three-point range and a perfect 4-of-4 from the free-throw line.
Julius Brown (19), Rian Pearson (18) and Matt Smith (12) were the other Rockets in double digits.
The Eagles got out to a quick 18-8 lead in the first nine minutes of the game.
“We came out and started the game with a lot of energy. I thought we made some shots early and took a commanding lead,” Murphy said.
Toledo chipped away at the Eagle lead thanks to key turnovers from Sims, starting this game at the point guard position and freshman reserve point guard Jalen Ross.
“You can’t win any championships without [point guard] playing well,” Murphy said.
The Eagles went on a 9-0 run starting at the 3:25 mark of the half on two free throws from Bryant. Sims scored the next seven points by himself, but allowed Toledo to get back in the game on a key turnover, resulting in a layup by Pierson.
“I thought J.R. was good; he was good defensively in the first half. He made some big shots for us in the first half, but his turnover started it to let them get back into it in the last two minutes of the first half,” Murphy said.
Despite the turnover, the Eagles still led 35-31 at the half.
“I thought overall in the first half, we played pretty good,” Murphy said.
The second half saw the play of two completely different teams. The Eagles came out with far less intensity, while the Rockets seemed to have a renewed effort.
“We came out in the second half and the defensive energy wasn’t there,” Murphy said.
Toledo, behind key three pointers and Eagle turnovers, erased the deficit it entered the half with and cruised to the 11-point win.
“When we had a chance to take Toledo out of the game, our point guards did a poor job of turning the ball over,” Murphy said.
Murphy was very direct when it came to his thoughts on the game as well as the season as a whole.
“What happened tonight, and even this season, without the two guys [James Still and Ray Lee], is unacceptable,” Murphy said. “If you can will guys, last year, Kamil Janton, Quintin Dailey, those guys, they had never won but they found it within themselves to want to have some success leaving out of here. And I tell our guys at some point it has to mean something to you. It meant something to Antonio Green and Darrell Lampley. I don’t know if it meant as much to Matt, Jamell and Derek…not as much. Obviously you go into a game and everybody wants to win, but I don’t know if it meant as much, that desperation, that ‘must win, we gotta win, we wanna win, do anything it takes’ and we didn’t have that and that’s what you saw tonight.”
EMU next moves on to the MAC tournament Monday night when the seventh seed Eagles take on tenth seed Northern Illinois University.
“Everybody’s record is 0-0 [in the MAC tournament] so we have to move forward,” Murphy said.
Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Convocation Center.
Follow Al Willman on Twitter: @AlWillmanEcho