The Eastern Michigan men’s basketball team’s season came to an end Thursday afternoon as they lost a heartbreaker to the University of Akron Zips, 65-63, at Quicken Loans Arena in the second round of the Mid-American Conference tournament.
The lead changed 13 times as both teams left in all on the floor. Raven Lee was the top scorer for the Eagles, finishing with 23 points. James Thompson finished his season with another double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds.
“I thought all game, for about 38 minutes, we played a really, really good basketball game, we played really good defense," EMU coach Rob Murphy said.
The game started out tense as both teams would quickly show what kind of game their playing. A steal by Willie Mangum lead to a dunk by Tim Bond to spark a 7-0 run by the Eagles. Lee continued the momentum with a drive through two Akron defenders to the basket but the Eagles would begin to struggle, allowing Akron to go on an 11-2 run to bring the lead to one with six minutes left.
Akron pushed for a two point lead courtesy of two trips to the line by Reggie McAdams. One of those trips would end in a four point play for the Zips. Isaiah Johnson would get the better of Thompson during their clashes in the paint, scoring 10 points. The Zips entered halftime leading by two.
“Thompson’s a really tough player, really aggressive, athletic big guy," Johnson said on his battle with Thompson. “[I was] just trying to go at him to get him in foul trouble with a lot of depth behind him, make him play defense. It’s a battle of wills, honestly.”
Mangum would score five straight points for the Eagles to take a two point lead in the opening minutes of the second half. The Eagles would then go on a 7-0 run to take a ten point lead at the under thirteen mark.
A steal by Bond would set up a full court pass to Lee, who got to the line and hit both to put the Eagles back up by ten. Ty Toney would drive for an under the basket lay-up to extend the lead to twolve with eight and a half minutes left.
A three by Antino Jackson cut the lead to one, but Lee responded with another three with one and a half minutes left. Noah Robotham would hit a three to give the Zips a one point lead with 40 seconds left, but Lee would get to the line to take the lead back for the Eagles.
The Eagles then struggled on multiple attempts to extend the lead, leaving the door open for Akron to win the game.
“We had five good opportunities on offense in the last three minutes and we missed every single one and that was the difference," Murphy said. “They did a great job of scoring but when we had our opportunities we didn’t capitalize.”
Johnson would hit a lay-up to put the Zips up by one giving the Eagles one last shot to win the game. Murphy drew up a play for Lee to cut to the basket but he was unable to hit and the Eagles season came to an end.
“But we will learn from this," Murphy said. “It’s all about the learning process for us. When you’re building a program, you look at Akron and see what they continue to do and this game could have gone either way. So I’m proud of our guys. I’m proud of the way they continued to fight all season through the ups and downs; and to be in this position to play this game, to have this opportunity is great.”