The Eastern Michigan University men’s basketball team won a back-and-forth game against Northern Illinois University, 57-49, at the Convocation Center on Feb. 9. The Eagles are now 10-13 (4-6).
The Eagles got off to a good start on Alumni Day in front of dozens of former EMU players as the offense was clicking early. Redshirt freshman Tariq Silver, who was moved into the starting lineup due to sophomore Kevin McAdoo’s ankle injury, hit a pair of 3-pointers in the first five minutes. As a team, EMU hit four of their first five 3-pointers. Silver knocked down another shot from deep with just under 10 minutes remaining in the first half, but the offense started struggling all of a sudden.
After the Eagles jumped out to a 21-13 lead, they went more than five minutes without a field goal, which allowed Northern Illinois to fight back into the game and even take a 27-24 halftime lead. At the break, Northern Illinois was outplaying Eastern Michigan inside, outscoring the Eagles 16-4 inside the paint. Silver led the team with nine points and one rebound at halftime, while redshirt senior Elijah Minnie had five points, two rebounds and two blocks after 20 minutes.
“We were moving the ball early, making shots,” redshirt senior Paul Jackson said. “Tariq Silver stepped up real big for us today, hit three early threes. When we’re flowing and we’re moving, everybody is touching the basketball, we can score efficiently, but we got a little stagnant and let them make a run.” Jackson went on to add how important it is for his teammates to remain aggressive even after they miss a shot or make a mistake.
Fortunately for the Eagles, they were able to get off to a positive start in the second half. Minnie hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 27-27, and then a Jackson layup gave the Eagles the lead. All game long, Eastern Michigan was able to put pressure on their opponents, which forced a lot of turnovers. The Huskies had 17 turnovers, which translated into 15 points off turnovers for EMU. With 10 minutes left in the game, the Eagles were clinging to a 37-34 advantage.
Trendon Hankerson completed an and-one for Northern Illinois to tie the game 39-39 with approximately eight minutes left, but then the Eagles offense started to wake up. Minnie hit a free throw after drawing a flagrant foul on a fast break, and then Jackson scored four straight points to remain in the lead. NIU continued to fight, though, and came back to tie it at 45 apiece at the under-four timeout. Jackson wouldn’t quit and kept pushing his team until the very end.
With about 50 seconds left, the Eagles led 53-49, and it felt like they were one play away from ending the Huskies’ chances of a late comeback. Silver found Jackson on the inbound pass, and then Jackson raced down the court and hit senior James Thompson IV for an alley-oop to push the lead to six points. “We came together,” Jackson said. “Tariq looked at me, I looked at him and saw he could just throw it over it my head. And then, James made an amazing play.”
Jackson led the team with 23 points, eight assists and three steals. Minnie was the only other EMU player in double figures with 11 points on 13 shots. Dante Thorpe was Northern Illinois’ leading scorer with 13 points, five rebounds and two assists. “We played really good defense in the last eight minutes,” coach Rob Murphy said. “I thought we got enough stops and made enough game-winning plays tonight. He [Jackson] was phenomenal. He made really good decisions throughout the last 10 minutes.”
The basketball team will face Ohio University on the road Tuesday, Feb. 12 at 7 p.m.