With the month of March on the horizon, Eastern Michigan University head coach Rob Murphy realized his team needed to get back to the basics.
The basics in his case is playing solid defense and the Eagles did exactly that by defeating the Central Michigan University Chippewas 64-42 Wednesday night at the Convocation Center.
“We knew that our length, size and athleticism would bother (CMU),“ Murphy said. “Our forwards did a great job of contesting shots and rebounding the ball. Our guards did a great job of keeping the ball out of the high post. It was a great team effort.”
After being held to two points against Western Michigan University on Feb. 23, Karrington Ward led the Eagles with 18 on 6-of-11 shooting, 3 three-point makes and 3-for-4 from the foul line.
Ward’s 18 was the most since putting up 20 on Jan. 22 against the University of Akron and talked about his performance after the game.
“I didn’t play too good in the first half (1-of-5), but coach kept telling me to be confident in my shot,“ Ward said. “I came out in the second half and went on a roll by hitting a lot of shots (5-for-6).”
Off the bench, Glenn Bryant III added 12 points and grabbed five rebounds.
For Central (10-17, 3-12 Mid-American Conference West), top scorer Chris Fowler scored 10 on 3-of-8 shooting, 2-for-2 from long range and 2-of-4 at the foul line.
EMU (16-12, 8-7 MAC West) scored first on Riley’s rebound and follow-up dunk off of Talley’s three-point miss.
Braylon Rayson’s three-pointer put CMU in front 3-2 until Combs came in off the bench to score six straight for Eastern.
EMU’s lead would grow to as many as ten with 4:24 left in the opening half on Ward’s three-point make from the wing.
Talley’s alley-oop pass to Riley for the dunk put Eastern ahead 24-16 with seven seconds left.
Fowler responded by dribbling up the court to make a 25-foot three-pointer from the wing to cut CMU’s deficit to five at the half.
Fowler opened the scoring in the second half with a three from the wing to cut EMU’s lead to two.
The Eagles would respond by going on a 21-4 run over an 8:37 stretch highlighted by Ward’s thirteen points.
“We settled in and executed on offense and knew it would keep (CMU) at bay,” Murphy said.
CMU head coach Keno Davis knew the game was out of reach after EMU’s lengthy run.
“We made a run in the second half to pull it within one,” Davis said. “And then the game got away from us. We had to be a little bit more aggressive in the full court and try to speed it up to be able to come back. When your final score is in the 40’s, an eight or ten point game seems like a lot. We had to gamble more.”
The Chippewas would get no closer than 17 points as the Eagles pulled away with a victory.
EMU held CMU to 13-of-53 (25 percent) from the field.
13 of Ward’s 18 points came in the second half.
Raven Lee was benched for the rest of the game at the 19-minute mark after missing a layup and not being in tuned on defense. Murphy explained the reason for Lee’s benching.
“Ray came down on the first possession and gave up a three-point shot,“ Murphy said. “I take defense really seriously and felt if you can’t set the tone, then you shouldn’t be in the game.”
On Feb. 1, Northern Illinois University pays a visit to the Convocation Center in Ypsilanti to take on EMU.
In the teams’ last meeting on Feb. 20, NIU defeated EMU 61-59 in double overtime.
Mike Talley scored a team-high 17 on 5-of-20 shooting and 7-for-12 from the foul line.
Jordan Threloff recorded his first career double-double with 27 points and 18 rebounds.
Murphy knows adjustments must be made against NIU. “We didn’t play well offensively in the first meeting, but I think we will execute better. We’re also looking to protect our home court so that we can build momentum going forward.”
Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m. with Chad Bush and Sean Hostetter on the call for WEMU 89.1 FM.
Pre-game coverage starts at 1:50 p.m.
Follow Eugene Evans on Twitter @GenoSportsguy.