James Thompson IV and Elijah Minnie combined for 40 points as Eastern Michigan men’s basketball delivered a decisive 95-61 victory to Kent State. The Eagles struggled in the first half, only attempting one free throw and three offensive rebounds. Going into halftime, they led by eight with Thompson shooting 100 percent from both three inside the arc.
Eastern came out of the locker room with a 23-1 run to open the half and put the score up to 62-33. Eastern dominated the inside with 34 points in the paint as well as shooting for 71.4% from the 3-point line.
“We didn’t want to let our foot off their throat, because we did that in a few games,” said Thompson. “We did it against Buffalo in the first game under MAC we had them and ended up getting comfortable.”
Thompson finished with 18 points, six rebounds and four blocks.
“I believe our energy from offense carried over to defense this time and we were able to get stops and push the ball in transitions,” said Thompson.
The defensive strategies paid off for the Eagles, holding Kent State to 32.1 percent behind the 3-point line.
“We emphasized on [Avery] and Walker shooting threes,” said Thompson. “We knew most of them could shoot, but those two were the guys. So, when they were on our side, whether it was on my side of the zone or Elijah’s, we made sure that we talked, communicated and let them know what side he was on.”
They practiced that drill before coming into the game.
“We actually talk about three second drill a lot. When we go up, we make sure the forward stays up on his face for like three seconds to let the guard have time to come back. That was how we bought some time for the guards, who were able to contain them from making all the threes,” said Thompson. “I felt like that took away a big portion of their offense, because they didn’t get so many transition buckets. Once again, that’s credit to practice. You know working on the same thing over and over again, so it just carried over.”
Minnie had 22 points, eight rebounds and two assists.
“Well of course playing in those venues, playing against those teams, it’s loud its rowdy,” said Minnie. “Going into Buffalo in a couple of weeks, we know that the environment is going to be really loud and really hostile. Just playing in those environments and getting adjusted to those really helped us going into conference, or when we play in those big games.”
Paul Jackson finished with 17 points and led the team with seven assists.
“We really just felt like we picked up our defensive intensity. Defense gets our offense going and everybody locked in,” said Jackson. “Coach Murphy stressed in the locker room that we focused on the defensive end, our bigs and guards played great and we were able to all buy in.”
The team is holding the same mindset heading into Akron.
“We’ve got to buy in on the defensive end,” said Jackson. “It’s going to be a tough venue at Akron. It’s always been a tough place for us playing there,” said Jackson. “It’ll actually be my first time playing there, so we’re going to … make sure that we can try to enforce our will on the road and not let anything take us out of the game. If we are playing poorly on offense and buy in on the defensive end, we’ll be able to control the game.”
Coach Rob Murphy gave the team good praise for their performance.
“Collectively, I thought as a unit on both ends of the floor, we played really good basketball from start to finish,” said Murphy. “Obviously Kent State is a very good basketball team, so for us to execute against them as we did offensively, and for us to stifle them defensively as we did, I give a lot of credit to my basketball team today. I thought out of the 50 minutes at Ball State we played a good 40 to 42 minutes but today, collectively, we continued to believe in each other throughout the game and we played well on both ends of the floor.”
Murphy also spoke on the team’s offense in the first and second half.
“I thought in the first half we made some threes but we kind of settled,” said Murphy. “I told our guys that anytime we are running and trying to execute our offense, if you’re being over played and you’re pressured like Kent State does, to just attack.”
“I thought in the second half we attacked more off the dribble drive. We drove with a purpose to get fouled or make a play,” said Murphy. “I thought they were trying to get back into the game, so they were a little over aggressive as they continued to foul us. We went to the line and started making free throws, which kept the lead where it was.”
The importance of a good defensive was not absent from Murphy’s mind.
“We went to the line and started making free throws, which kept the lead where it was. More importantly, defensively, we continued to stifle them, continued to rebound the ball, and were able to get some easy run outs in transition.”
Jalen Avery and Philip Whittington both had 10 points for Kent State. Jaylin Walker led the team with 17 points, four rebounds and four assists.
The Eagles will head on the road to face off against Akron on Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. You can watch the full press conference from tonight’s game below.