Eagles put together second-half comeback; advance to third round of MAC Tourney

Eastern Michigan guard Darell Combs (25) is fouled on a shot attempt in the Eagles 56-52 win over Northern Illinois Saturday afternoon.

Holding an 11-point lead, Northern Illinois University appeared to be in the driver’s seat looking to end Eastern Michigan University’s season Wednesday night.

“We allowed them to get inside the paint,” EMU coach Rob Murphy said. “They had 12 points in the paint in the first half.”

No. 6 seed EMU turned that deficit into a ticket to the third round of the Mid-American Conference Tournament, beating No. 7 seed NIU 53-48.

With the win, the Eagles are one of the six MAC teams left in the tournament. They’ll play the No. 3 seed University at Buffalo Thursday at 9 p.m. at Quicken Loans Arena.

The Eagles got a big second half push from forward Glenn Bryant III, who scored 10 of his 12 points in the final 20 minutes. He posted four blocks and three rebounds.

“Give Bryant a lot of credit,” Murphy said. “He played a great second half.”

EMU’s scoring leader Karrington Ward catalyzed the offense in the first half, scoring 11 points and creating opportunity to get the ball into the offensive zone with 6 defensive rebounds.

He finished with a double-double (13 points and 12 rebounds).

Guard J.R. Sims helped the Eagles clamped down defensively in the final minute of the contest, keeping NIU away from dismembering the team’s comeback.

“Sims did an unbelievable job playing defense and creating transition for us,” Murphy said.

Sims forced guard Aaric Armstead to turn the ball over in his own zone with 24 seconds left in the game and EMU up one point.

The Huskies led EMU by two points with 4:45 to go in the first half, but a three-pointer by guard Aaron Armstead sparked an 11-2 run for his squad.

Despite being ranked 12th in the conference in three-point field goal percentage (.277), the Huskies were 5-of-11 (45.45 percent) beyond the arc in the first half. The Armstead brothers shot a combined 4-of-6.

“We gave them two top-of-the-key three point shots,” Murphy said. “We allowed the ball to get to the post and to the high post, which they threw out for really good looks.”

However, the law of averages caught up as they went 0-for-6 in the second half.

Game Notes:

Game Attendance was recorded at 1,513.

The victory was Murphy’s 50th career win (50-49) since becoming head coach in the 2011-2012 season.

Eastern Michigan’s last team to have 20 wins was in 1997-1998.

EMU trailed an opponent by more than 11 points at halftime one time this season (78-68 loss vs. Akron, Jan. 22).

Eagles’ senior center Da’Shonte Riley fouled out with 10:18 left in the game. He had zero points, four rebounds and two blocks in 12 minutes of play.

EMU had 16 points off turnovers; NIU had eight.

The Huskies started the game out on an 8-2 run.

Northern Illinois shot 47.8 percent as a team in the first half.

Looking Ahead:

The Eagles face the University at Buffalo tonight in round three of the MAC Tournament. Tipoff is scheduled for 9 p.m. tipoff in Cleveland, following the Ohio-Akron contest. The teams met once this year in conference play, where UB hosted EMU on Jan. 11, as well as came out on top 76-66.

The winner faces conference-ranked No. 2 University of Toledo in the conference semifinal this Friday, March 14.

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