Da’Shonte Riley proved on the court Thursday night why he was named the Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Year.
As the primary defender on Javon McCrea, he held him to a season-low seven points.
Eastern Michigan University head coach Rob Murphy talked about the team’s defensive strategy.
“[It was] definitely not the game plan to [pressure Javon],” Murphy said. “We had great belief in Da’Shonte’s ability to bother him with his length.”
Defense proved to be the No. 6 seed Eastern Michigan University’s calling card as it fought off its second double-digit deficit in as many nights to defeat No. 3 seeded the University at Buffalo 69-64 in the MAC tournament quarterfinals at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.
Karrington Ward finished with a team-high 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting, 4-for-6 from the foul line and a free-throw make for Eastern. Ward’s 19 points was more significant after being benched in the final eight minutes in favor of J.R. Sims.
“It was tough, but as a teammate, I had to make sure I cheered them on,” Ward said. “[I am grateful] we got the job done.”
Despite shooting 1-of-9 from the field, Mike Talley finished with 12 points with ten coming off of free throws.
Buffalo’s Joshua Freelove led all scorers with 26, but could not find many open looks after the 15-minute mark.
“The wings stretched out on the 2-3 [zone] and I was unable to get any open looks,” Freelove said.
UB’s first nine points came off of three-pointers as EMU trailed by four at the 15:54 mark in the first half.
13 seconds later, a technical foul was assessed to McCrea for hanging on the rim. Ward split a pair of free throws.
Bryant’s thunderous dunk with his head on par with the rim highlighted a 12-1 EMU run to make it 17-10.
EMU appeared to be in control until UB closed the first half on a 13-3 run spanning 4:47 to lead 32-29 after 20 minutes.
McCrea was held to 2-of-4 from the free-throw line and 0-for-7 from the field for two points in the first half.
25 seconds into the second half, Jarryn Skeete fell and slammed his head on the court after committing a foul on Ward’s converted layup. Skeete would be helped to the locker room, but appeared to be bleeding as a UB trainer held a towel over him and did not return.
“Skeete was a big loss because he stretched the floor for us,” UB head coach Bobby Hurley said.
3 three-pointers from Freelove capped a 13-4 UB run to go ahead 45-35 with 15:46 left.
The Eagles began to close out on open perimeter looks from UB as it turned missed shots into a quick 7-0 flurry from Darell Combs to pull them to 47-44.
After both teams exchanged baskets, EMU would go back ahead 55-54 on Daylen Harrison’s three-pointer from the baseline.
Ford’s split evened the game at 55, but Talley and Riley would combine for five consecutive free-throw makes.
With a little under four minutes left and looking to go to the basket, Jarod Oldham’s shot was swatted away by Riley as the EMU bench got up off its seats in excitement.
Down 67-64 with five seconds, Will Regan grabbed the offensive rebound for UB, but could not find anyone open on the perimeter and attempted a bounce pass that went out of bounds.
Talley would be fouled on the next play with four seconds left and would sink both free throws to ice the game.
Eastern moves on to face No. 2 seed the University of Toledo in the MAC Semifinals Friday night at 9 p.m.
Follow Eugene Evans on Twitter @GenoSportsguy.