Eagles unable to complete comeback, fall to no. 14 Michigan State, 69-61

Janay Morton (13) led the Eagles in scoring with 13 points.

Despite mounting a comeback in the last two minutes, the Eastern Michigan women’s basketball team was unable to get past no. 14 ranked Michigan State University – falling 69-61 to the Spartans Sunday afternoon at the Breslin Center.

Sunday’s game was the regular season opener for Michigan State.

EMU coach Tory Verdi said his team’s youthfulness caused mistakes – what he said was a result of shot selection. The Eagles shot 23-of-65 from the floor.

Verdi said there was another major thing to take from the loss.

“It showed that we can play with some of the best teams in the country,” he said. “We put ourselves in a position right there – two possessions away from taking the lead.”

Janay Morton was the leading scorer for the Eagles (1-1) with 13 points.

Janay Morton (EMU): 13 points, 4 rebounds

Shannise Heady (EMU): 10 points, 5 rebounds

Aerial Powers (MSU): 20 points, 15 rebounds

Tori Jankoska (MSU): 20 points, 8 rebounds.

“We knew we had to have confidence,” she said. “We couldn’t hang our heads. Although Cha fouled out we knew we could do it. We were up there with them. It was a tough loss, but we’ll bounce back.”

Shannise Heady added 10.

Rachel Kehoe had six rebounds for Eastern.

Aerial Powers had a double-double with 20 points and 15 rebounds for the Spartans (1-0).

Tori Jankoska also scored 20 for MSU.

“We really spent all of our time preparing for Eastern Michigan,” MSU coach Suzy Merchant said. “Every time we play them it’s been a war and I knew it was going to be that way.”

Michigan State went on a 7-1 run in the first 1:29 of the game.

A three-pointer from Morton at the 13:30 mark of the first half gave the Eagles their first lead of the game – a lead it held for the next 8:31.

There were four lead changes in the half, but Michigan State pulled away over the last 4:03 – going on a 12-4 run in that stretch.

The Eagles went on a 6-2 run to start the second half, but the Spartans answered back – pulling away to lead by as many as 14 points (56-42, 8:29 left).

“I think it’s obvious that they had to change who they were because we dictated,” Verdi said. “They couldn’t stay in front of us so they played 2-3 zone – that team doesn’t play 2-3 zone. Obviously they did tonight because of our ability to attack the rim and get baskets.”

The Eagles mounted a comeback – led by Morton, trailing by as few as four points (62-58, 1:54 to go) but it was not enough.

“Coming right out of that timeout, Coach Carly [Thibault] told me ‘It starts with you – you’ve got to bring some energy’ so as soon as we came out of that timeout I knew I had to make something happen,” Morton said.

Merchant – who coached at Eastern from 2003-07 said she was happy to play EMU.

“I’m glad we played Eastern Michigan,” she said. “I have an affinity for the place – I started out there so I feel like it’s an obligation to give back and I like that they always come well-prepared and with a lot of aggression. It helps us in the end.”

News and notes

Cha Sweeney fouled out with 10:11 remaining in regulation.

Looking Ahead

The Eagles will take on the University of Texas-Pan American Broncs Saturday in Edinburg, Tex.

This will be the first ever matchup between the two teams.

Tip-off is scheduled for 1 p.m. (Central time)

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Follow Al Willman on Twitter: @AlWillmanEcho

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