Playing in its fourth game in five nights, sixth-seeded Eastern Michigan University could not muster a third straight double-digit come-from-behind win.
After Mike Talley’s layup cut the deficit to 45-40, EMU (21-14) would get no closer as the No. 2 seed University of Toledo ended the game on a 15-4 run spanning 6:06.
Co-captain and senior Da’Shonte Riley played a team-high 35 minutes and grabbed nine rebounds, but would not use fatigue as an excuse in Eastern’s 59-44 defeat to Toledo Friday night in the Mid-American Conference semifinal at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.
“I didn’t realize I played 35 minutes, but that’s no excuse because I am one of the team captains,” Riley said. “It’s my job to hold down the paint defensively and get my team going. I didn’t do that tonight, but I won’t use fatigue as an excuse.”
Karrington Ward, who scored 20 in the last meeting against UT on March 8, was held to 7 on 2-of-9 shooting, 1-of-7 from three-point range and two free-throw makes. Murphy admitted Ward’s shooting struggles played a critical role in the double-digit defeat.
“[Karrington] just couldn’t find his shot and I thought he passed up some open looks,” Murphy said. “Credit Toledo for continuing to harass him, trace the ball, pressure him and always thinking about where they were as opposed to catching and shooting [the ball]. Again, that’s a credit to [Toledo] and I encouraged him to continue to shoot, but he couldn’t find his rhythm. I don’t think it was fatigue with him because he’s a super-athlete who is in tremendous shape, but he could not find the rim tonight.”
Glenn Bryant III led Eastern’s offense with a career-high six blocks and game-high 11 points.
For Toledo (27-5), 15 of Rian Pearson’s 18 points came in the first half and head coach Tod Kowalczyk talked about the intensity he brought.
“Rian Pearson’s energy in the first half was tremendous,” Kowalczyk said.
Justin Drummond finished with a double-double (11 points and ten rebounds) and talked about scoring nine of those in the second-half and the confidence it brought to him.
“I got my shot going in the second half and it helped my teammates,” Drummond said. “It also got the crowd into it and everything fell in place.”
EMU’s half-court pace slowed Toledo’s league-leading offense down in the first nine minutes at it led 12-11.
After Darell Combs’ three-point make from the wing, UT responded by going on a 9-0 run to take a 20-15 lead.
Trailing 24-21, Talley on the top of the key darted an alley-oop pass to Bryant for the thunderous dunk.
Toledo led for the remainder of the half, but Combs’ three-pointer at the buzzer gave EMU momentum as it trailed 32-28.
Down 38-29, the Eagles used two Bryant blocks to help fuel a 7-1 run on the Rockets.
EMU would get no closer as its conference tournament run ends, but will await possible postseason invites from the National Invitational Tournament and/or the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament.
Moving forward, Murphy knows potentially there is still more basketball with one of the aforementioned tournaments.
“We still have basketball left and I know it is not what we wanted,” Murphy said. “But for this program, we have plenty of positive things to look forward to.”
Eastern’s 21 wins is the most since the 1997-98 season.
The final attendance listing was 6,318.
Follow Eugene Evans on Twitter @GenoSportsguy.