The first round of the Mid-American Conference Tournament kicks off on March 11 at the Convocation Center as Eastern Michigan hosts Ball State.
This will be the third time that these two teams have played each other this season, as Eastern won both match-ups earlier in the year. The first was an 84-82 double-overtime win for Eastern Michigan on Jan. 8, and the second game resulted in a 68-61 win for the Eagles on March 5.
“The MAC is very tough; everybody is playing at a very high level this time of year,” coach Rob Murphy said. “For me, I just concentrate on our team and make sure we are playing and executing on a high level to give us our best opportunity to win.”
Eastern Michigan is coming into the tournament as the 6-seed after a loss in its last game of the regular season against Toledo to give the Eagles a record of 15-16 on the season and a 9-9 record in conference play. The Eagles have won six of their last nine games coming into the tournament.
Ball State is on the opposite end of the seeding spectrum, while also losing the last game of its season 65-57 to Northern Illinois. Ball State is coming into the tournament as the 11-seed with an overall record of 15-16 as well, but the Cardinals have a conference record of 6-12 that kept them in the lower portion of the bracket. In contrast to the Eagles, Ball State has lost five of its last nine games to end the season.
Last year, the Eagles sat out the first round of the tournament after earning a first-round bye, as they were the 3-seed at the end of the regular season. In the quarterfinal round, the Eagles moved on after a 67-58 win over Akron. However, they would not advance past the semifinals after a 64-63 loss to Toledo in Cleveland, Ohio.
For the Eagles to win this game, they will need contributions from their leading scorer Paul Jackson, who averages 14.4 points per game, and the all-time leading rebounding in school history, James Thompson IV, who averages 11 rebounds per game.
For Ball State, Tayler Persons must have a good game for them to win. He is averaging 16.7 points per game. If Ball State can win the rebounding game and keep the Eagles from crashing the boards, then the Cardinals have a shot at winning.
The winner of this game moves onto the quarterfinal round of the MAC Tournament at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio to play against Bowling Green on March 14.
It’s been 21 years since Eastern Michigan last won the MAC Tournament, with a 92-77 win over Miami in 1998. That was also the last time the team had advanced to the tournament championship.
Despite over two decades of not winning the tournament, Murphy believes this year will be different.
“I feel really good going into the postseason with a chance to win the MAC Tournament championship,” Murphy said.