This was not a good week for Eastern Michigan University’s basketball teams against Central Michigan University. Following a loss Tuesday night by the men’s team in Mt. Pleasant, the women’s team fell to the Chippewas on Wednesday night, 63-56, at the Convocation Center.
The loss did not impact the team’s position in the Mid-American Conference tournament, which starts Saturday. The ladies are still solidified in the eighth spot.
Wednesday also marked Senior Day for the Eagles. In a pre-game ceremony, the team honored its three seniors: forward Taylor Bird and centers (and roommates) India Hairston and Chelsea Hite.
Hite finished the game with 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting. She was also a perfect 3-of-3 from the free throw line. She played 12 minutes off the bench.
After the game, EMU coach Tory Verdi praised Hite for her hard work this season.
“Chelsea has been really, really good the second half of the season,” Verdi said. “You just see the growth and development in her game, the confidence. It’s been great to see.”
Leading the Eagles (8-21, 6-10 MAC) in scoring was junior forward Natachia Watkins. She scored 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting and made 4-of-8 free throw attempts.
Rounding out the scoring for EMU was junior guard Desyree Thomas, who scored 12 points on 6-of-13 shooting.
For CMU (18-11, 12-4 MAC), four players scored in double digits. Taylor Johnson led the way with 17 points in 32 minutes off the bench.
Crystal Bradford earned a double-double with 14 points and 17 rebounds in 36 minutes.
Niki DiGuilio and Brandie Baker each scored 11 points for the Chippewas.
The stand-out statistic of the night was EMU shooting 0-of-9 from three-point range, as opposed to CMU shooting 5-of-18.
“Some of those [three pointers] were rushed,” Verdi said. “Others, we just gotta knock them down. I’ve been saying this all year: Perimeter shooting has been our Achilles’ heel. Its an area that we’ve been struggling with all year. We have to be ready shooters and knock down that shot.”
Both teams came out swinging in the first half. Each team led by no more than six points in the half, and going into the break the Eagles only trailed 30-28.
For CMU, 15 of those points came from second-chance opportunities. Verdi said his team’s biggest adjustment at the half needed to be to cut down on those opportunities.
“The biggest thing was that we needed to box out,” he said. “They were beating us up on the boards. I was happy with our defensive game plan and our execution of it. The only thing I wasn’t happy about was that we were giving second-chance opportunity points to them. Going into tonight’s game, one of the big keys was keeping them off the glass.”
CMU got off to a fast start in the second half. Despite the Eagles attempting to chip away at the Chippewa lead, CMU never looked back and cruised to the seven-point victory.
The next obstacle for the Eagles is the MAC tournament, which starts Saturday afternoon following the men’s game vs. the University of Toledo in its final, regular-season game.
Ninth-seed Western Michigan University comes to the Convocation Center fresh off tonight’s 58-50 win over Northern Illinois University. Verdi mentioned the need for EMU’s defense to step up against the Broncos.
“I think the biggest thing is being ready to play, being excited for it,” he said. “[The MAC tournament] is a new season. We will be excited for it. The number one thing we need to do a great job of is that we have to allow our defense to make some of our offense. We’ll get out, we’ll pressure a little bit more than we have the last couple of games. [Western Michigan is] a little bit different than obviously Central and Toledo … on Saturday, we’re going to try and speed up the pace of the game, do what we do best and get deflections and steals and try and convert on the other end.”
Verdi also hopes the home crowd will play a factor in the game against WMU.
“We haven’t been great here [at the Convocation Center],” he said. “The fact that it’s our last game in the Convo, our kids are going to be pretty excited to play.”
Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m., and results can be found after the game on our website.
Follow Al Willman on Twitter: @AlWillmanEcho