The Eastern Michigan men's basketball team is returning to Cleveland after defeating the University of Toledo Rockets, 69-60, for the third time in a three week span Monday night in the first round of the Mid-American Conference Tournament.
Tim Bond was once again a clutch player for the Eagles, finishing with 15 points, five steals, and three assists. Raven Lee was the top scorer for the Eagles, putting up 19 points along with four steals.
“We went down two with two and half minutes to go,” Bond said. “I was just basically telling everybody to keep their composure. We’ve been down before. It’s nothing new. We just had to come out with the victory.”
The Eagles got off to a terrific start, getting six steals and using those steals to their advantage to go on an 11-0 run. Lee capitalized on the defensive effort by hitting two triples to put the Eagle lead to nine.
“I thought we started the game playing well defensively," EMU coach Rob Murphy said. “We didn’t capitalize right away. But once our offense picked up, I thought throughout the half, we played well.”
The Eagles stifled the Rockets on the defensive end and capitalized on the offensive end by extending the lead to 15 with three minutes left in the first half. The Eagles forced Toledo to commit 11 turnovers to take a 16 point lead going into the half.
The Rockets opened up the half on a 8-0 run, cutting the lead to ten in the first three minutes. EMU and Toledo would then trade baskets, with Toledo's Nathan Boothe hitting some long two pointers to bring the EMU lead to eight. Toledo would shift the momentum in their favor by blocking the lanes and getting some quick steals.
“In the second half, we came out kind of stagnant," Murphy said. “We allowed Boothe to get a few touches inside. I continued to challenge our guys throughout the second half to play defense even when we’re stagnant on offense.”
The Rockets capitalized on those steals to go on scoring run to take a two point lead with two minutes to go but the Eagles would quickly get two steals and score two times to take a five point lead with a minute left. The Eagles held on and won 69-60.
“I thought our student section, alumni and fans were phenomenal tonight," Murphy said. “I thought throughout the game they continued to cheer us through the ups and downs and I thought at the end, they really helped pull us through. So it’s a very special day in that regard to see so many people come out for a big game.”
The recorded attendance was 1,556.
“The atmosphere was crazy tonight," Bond said. “I wish it was like that all the time.”
The Eagles will face the no. one seeded University of Akron on Thursday morning at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. Tip-off is scheduled for noon.