Eagle men fall to WMU, 70-55, in MAC quarterfinals

Senior center Matt Balkema (45) attempts a three pointer at the buzzer of EMU’s 70-55 loss to WMU on Thursday.

The Eastern Michigan University men’s basketball team squared off against the Western Michigan University Broncos in its Mid-American Conference Tournament quarterfinal matchup Thursday night. Things just didn’t work out for the Eagles as the team fell 70-55, wrapping up the season for the green and white.

“Well I thought tonight was a very tough game for us,” EMU coach Rob Murphy said. “Not to make any excuses, but any time you play four games in five days starting with Saturday, you kind of lose something as you move along with the excitement of advancing and fatigue setting in.”

Murphy made a point to recognize the play of WMU as well.

“Not to take anything away from Western Michigan, they have a really good team, I thought Shayne Whittington put his stamp on the game early on, especially throughout the first half, we kind of got him under control in the second half,” Murphy said.

Redshirt junior guard Daylen Harrison led the way for Eastern (16-18) with 14 points on 4-of-8 shooting, including 2-of-4 from three-point range. He was also a perfect 4-of-4 from the free-throw line.

Redshirt junior forward Glenn Bryant added eight points as did junior center Da’Shonte Riley, who also had ten rebounds and finished just shy of another double-double.

For the Broncos (20-11), three players scored in double digits, led by Whittington’s 23 points; Darius Paul (14) and Brandon Pokley (11) also featured in the scoring.

The Eagles got off to a slow start in the first half. The team trailed 6-2 early, before the media timeout at the 15:49 mark.

The teams fought for the next four plus minutes and with the score 11-7 in favor of
Western Michigan with 11:27 left, the Eagles made a push for the lead.

The Eagles went on a 12-7 run over the next 3:10 and led by a score of 19-18.

Both teams vigorously traded baskets until the 4:01 mark when Whittington made two free throws from a Riley foul, cutting the Eagle lead to 31-30.

The Eagles cooled off in the final four minutes of the half and went into the locker room trailing 36-32. Harrison led the team with 12 points on 4-of-5 from the floor, including 2-of-2 from both three-point range and the free-throw line.

Whittington led the Broncos with 18 points at the break. He was 6-of-9 from the floor and a perfect 6-of-6 from the line.

In the second half, the wheels came off the bus for EMU.

Western came out to a quick 46-36 lead over the first five minutes of the half. The Eagles managed to fight back with short rallies through the middle of the half. The smallest deficit for EMU was one point (50-49 WMU with 8:31 remaining after a dunk from senior center Jamell Harris).

“I think in the second half we weren’t doing what we were doing in the first half. We were playing together, getting each other open shots in the first half, I think the second half we started to force a little bit more shots and we just didn’t make as many,” Harrison said.

Things went from bad to worse for the Eagles, as WMU went on a 20-6 run to end the game and seal the 15-point win.

The Eagles finished the season with a stretch of four games in five days. Riley pointed out, however, that the stretch of games was not a factor in the loss.

“Honestly, to say that we were tired to me would just be an excuse. It’s been done in the past, seniors have played multiple games in a certain amount of days,” Riley said. “We didn’t really look at that as an excuse, it may have been an advantage for Western, having a bye, but I think we had our adrenaline pumping. We felt we were in good position to win the game, we just didn’t make the right plays at the end.”

Murphy praised his team for the way it played in the MAC tournament.

“For the most part, I’m proud of our guys for advancing in the tournament, winning two games. I think Western is a really good team, a well-balanced team. And I think moving forward we just have to get better when we get in these positions, to be well prepared for the game and continue to get better,” Murphy said.

Follow Al Willman on Twitter: @AlWillmanEcho

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