Behind a 25 point performance from freshman Cha’Ron (Cha) Sweeney, the Eastern Michigan University women’s basketball team easily defeated the Madonna University Crusaders, 101-52, Friday afternoon at the Convocation Center.
“[It’s] unbelievable for a freshman and it’s her debut, but it doesn’t surprise me,” EMU coach Tory Verdi said after the game. “We knew all along that she was talented, but to come in game number one and put up 25 points in 25 minutes and only one turnover is almost unheard of. I’m just excited that I get to coach her for the next four years.”
Sweeney was a little more modest about her performance.
“I feel like I did good, but there was a lot of stuff I could improve on despite that,” she said.
Three other Eagles scored in double digits Saturday, including senior center Olivia Fouty, who scored 10 points and pulled down 11 rebounds, for her first double-double of the season.
“It’s great,” Verdi said. “She’s been through so much adversity and it’s just great to see her bounce back and, no pun intended, rebound, and get those types of numbers for us.”
Off the bench, it was another freshman who stole the show for Eastern (1-0, 0-0 Mid-American Conference).
Guard Haley Moore scored 15 on 5-of-7 from long distance.
“She’s a silent assassin,” Verdi said. “And it’s funny because I was just looking at the stat sheet before going into the locker room and it was like: ‘She had 15 points.’ Just the fact that she can spot up and shoot and knock it down makes everybody else more of a weapon whereas last year, everybody sat down and defended the paint and we couldn’t get to the basket. Now, people have to extend their defenses, it opens up all the driving lanes and Des [Thomas] can be more effective, Cha [Sweeney] can be more effective – we can attack the basket.”
Sweeney praised her teammates’ strong play.
“I think they did really good today,” Sweeney said. “Haley knocked down shots, we expect that. Olivia got a lot of boards and put backs. We’re looking for everybody to just get better every game.”
For Madonna (1-2), junior guard Rachel Melcher (Sterling Heights, Mich.) led the way with seven points. Four other players scored six for the Crusaders.
Senior forward Sara Stone got the scoring started for the Eagles, who like the men’s team earlier in the afternoon, never looked back after drawing first blood.
Fouty, Sweeney and senior guard Desyree Thomas all followed in step, as Eastern finished the half ahead 57-30, powered by Sweeney’s 17 first half points.
The second half was all Eastern, as Thomas, who finished the game with 13 points, Sweeney and Moore combined to score the team’s first 11 points after the break on the way to the 49-point blowout of the Crusaders.
The Eagles face Butler University on Wednesday night at the Convocation Center.
The Bulldogs finished the 2012-13 season in sixth place in the Atlantic 10 Conference before moving to the Big East Conference before the start of this season.
Verdi says his team will have to make some improvements before Wednesday’s game.
“I think we have to clean up a couple things,” Verdi said. “First of all, Butler is a different animal. They’re a Big East team. We have to make sure we get back on the court, we have to clean up our 3-2 zone, we’ve got to do a better job cleaning up the corners, our baseline, out of bounds defense was a little shoddy at times today. Basically we’ve got to continue to improve and get our players better.”
Sweeney is confident in her team and says she wants to make a statement against the Bulldogs.
“Because they’re a Big East team, I’m looking forward to competing with them and to let the NCAA know that we’re here, that we can play just as well as the Big East,” she said.
Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Follow Al Willman on Twitter: @AlWillmanEcho