Those who went home Saturday for spring break missed out on an overtime win for the Eastern Michigan University men’s basketball team over the Western Michigan University Broncos, 50-49.
The Eagles pulled out the victory over its Mid-American Conference West rivals from Kalamazoo in front of 1,216 fans, a solid number who wore the gold and black of WMU.
“Today was a big win for us,” EMU coach Rob Murphy said after the game. “[WMU is in] first place on our side of the conference. We wanted to protect our home floor. We wanted to play extremely hard and obviously send a message to everybody else that the season is not over and we are going to continue to compete until the last game.”
Western kept the game close for most of regulation as well as overtime, but Murphy was clear about how he thought his team rose to the occasion.
“I thought our guys stepped up and met the challenge today,” Murphy said.
WMU coach Steve Hawkins was direct about how he thought his team performed against Eastern.
“It was obviously a low-scoring, tough ballgame,” Hawkins said. “Possessions meant everything. They hit a couple huge shots late. [EMU senior guard Derek] Thompson’s three; we had a good hand in his face. We had a three-point lead. That’s what good players do, they hit a tough shot late. They banked in a shot there in the overtime and that’s when you start to become concerned. You go ‘Uh oh, is this gonna be their night?’”
Leading the way for EMU (14-15, 7-7 MAC) was redshirt junior forward Glenn Bryant. Bryant scored 15 points on 7-of-17 shooting and went 1-of-3 from the free throw line.
Another player who had a great day for EMU was redshirt junior forward Daylen Harrison. Harrison’s 13 points on 6-of-12 shooting and 1-of-3 from three-point range caught Murphy’s eye.
“I thought he was super aggressive,” Murphy said. “I was happy to see how aggressive he was; he hasn’t been that aggressive in a while. It just shows me and shows us, our staff and our team that when he makes up his mind, he can be the versatile player we thought he can be … hopefully he continues to be aggressive in closing out the season as we prepare for postseason play.”
For the Broncos (18-10, 9-5 MAC), Shayne Whittington was the only player in double digits. He scored 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting and made his only free-throw attempt. He sealed up the double-double with 11 rebounds.
The game was close from start to finish and EMU took a 23-18 lead into the half.
The second half saw both teams trading baskets. The score was tied 39-39 with 3:04 remaining in regulation when David Brown made a three-pointer for Western.
Thompson answered with a three-pointer of his own at the 1:36 mark, which would prove to send the game to overtime. EMU had a chance to win it with 0:09 left, but the play Murphy called on the team to run did not work.
Both teams went back and forth to start overtime. Whittington gave Western its final lead of the contest when he made a layup and was fouled by redshirt junior guard Anthony Strickland in the process. Whittington made the free throw, putting WMU up 48-47.
Redshirt junior guard J.R. Sims was fouled by Austin Richie and made both his free throws, which proved to be the game-winning shots for EMU. Nate Hutcheson made a jumper for WMU with 0:20 remaining, but it was too little, too late for the Broncos.
Harrison has steadily been improving all season, and was also named a MAC Scholar Athlete two weeks ago. But Murphy pointed out Harrison’s need to keep playing more aggressively and differentiate himself on the court from who he is off it.
“He’s such a passive, nice kid,” Murphy said. “I think off the court, that’s great. Having a 3.8 [GPA], being an academic scholar … it’s very important. But he’s had such a nice demeanor. He’s what I would want my son to be. But when you get on the court, that demeanor needs to change. He’s in between the lines. We’ve been pushing that with him all season. Today he made a huge step. I want him to continue that aggression, and I want to see if he can continue to play positively on offense and not be passive and help us in that area.”
The Eagles travel to Mt. Pleasant on Tuesday to take on the Central Michigan University Chippewas. In the last meeting between the two teams Jan. 15 at the Convocation Center, Eastern won 58-52.
Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m., and the game can be heard live on WEMU 89.1 FM.
Be sure to check out our website for the results and a game recap after the game ends Tuesday night.
Follow Al Willman on Twitter: @AlWillmanEcho