Following the Eastern Michigan University men’s basketball team’s 69-56 loss to Columbia University in the second round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, I broke down what I think are the five most important things to take away from the team’s performance this season.
A winning culture
Rob Murphy has shown that he can do for a major sport at Eastern what coaches John Goodridge (men’s track), Sue Parks (women’s track) and Peter Linn (swimming and diving) have done in their lesser advertised ones – sow the seeds of a real winning culture.
Leading his team to a 22-15 record this season, including 13-10 against Mid-American Conference opponents in the regular season and MAC Tournament, Murphy was in the driver’s seat for the team’s best performance since the 1997-98 season when the Eagles finished 20-10.
Which leads me to my next point.
According to emueagles.com, the official website for EMU Athletics, the team averaged an attendance of 901 at the team’s 19 home games – a stretch in which the team sported a 16-3 record.
He was close – EMU ranks 27th.
According to the NCAA’s website, the bottom five in attendance per game in Divsion I are St. Peter’s College (303), St. Francis College – Brooklyn (505), Sacred Heart University (516), Southeastern Louisiana University (524) and the University of New Hampshire (532).
EMU is, however, worst in the MAC.
Say what you will about the CIT – a pay-for-play tournament, but the team did still make a postseason appearance, and earn a win in that tournament, which should count for something. The last time the team won a postseason game was during the 1996 NCAA Tournament when the Eagles took down Duke University, 75-60.
The team’s last postseason appearance was in the 1998 NCAA Tournament – the Eagles fell, 83-71.
Besides Bryant, who held many roles – most notably the team’s sixth man – the Eagles were led on the court by MAC Defensive Player of the Year Da’Shonte Riley. Riley finished his final season with 96 blocks (team and conference best) and 6.0 rebounds per game.
Planning for the future
EMU’s top three scorers this season will all be returning in 2014-15. Karrington Ward (12.5 ppg) and Raven Lee (10.6) will be entering their senior seasons while Mike Talley (10.2) will be a redshirt sophomore.
On defense, the picture is a little more cloudy. At 6’11”, Olalekan Ajayi will be entering his junior season, but his play will have to greatly improve. He averaged 10.7 minutes per game off the bench in 26 games, only blocking seven shots and averaging 2.7 rebounds per contest.
Ward, 6’7”, will likely be the go-to on defense, as he swatted 25 shots this season and averaged 6.4 rebounds per game.
Follow Al Willman on Twitter: @AlWillmanEcho
Al can be heard every Monday on the Eastern Echo Sports Podcast with co-host Bianca Jonna. The podcast is available as a free download on iTunes, but can also be found on SoundCloud for non-Apple users. Just search for “The Eastern Echo Sports Podcast”.