The Eastern Michigan Eagles (16-15, 6-12) men’s basketball team lost their final regular season game of the year to the Toledo Rockets (16-15, 8-10) on Friday, March 6 at Savage Arena in Toledo. The Eagles were led by Thomas Binelli, who finished the game with 12 points and three rebounds. Luke Knapke had 16 points and 12 rebounds for the Rockets.
“We’ve had a tough home record this year but this one meant the most for us. Luke is Luke. You’re not going to find another big man like him,” said Toledo point guard Marreon Jackson. “This season is not done. We’re going to make a run for it starting on Monday. We have a chip on our shoulder.”
Binelli gave the Eagles an early lead as he connected on back-to-back 3-pointers, putting EMU up 6-2 with 18:41 remaining in the first half. Knapke continued battling for the Rockets, though, as he scored seven of his team’s first 10 points. Binelli hit his third 3-pointer of the night with 7:16 left in the half as the Eagles trailed 21-17.
Noah Morgan kept the momentum going for EMU as he got to the rim and converted a layup, pulling his team within two points. A few minutes later, Binelli knocked down his fourth 3-pointer of the half but Eastern Michigan still trailed 27-24. Ty Groce scored the final bucket of the first half as Toledo held a 32-26 lead at the break.
Despite trailing by six points, the Eagles competed hard and were playing high level defense. EMU blocked three shots, compared to just one for the Rockets. Eastern Michigan also forced poor shooting from Toledo as UT made just 35.7% of their shots from the field. EMU was shooting 42.3% from the field in the first 20 minutes.
Binelli led all scorers with 12 points and two rebounds. Yeikson Montero was second on the team in scoring with six points. Toledo was led by the dynamic duo of Knapke and Jackson. They combined for 20 points, while Knapke grabbed seven rebounds and Jackson dished out one assist.
Jackson opened up the second half with a 3-pointer from the wing, putting the Rockets up 37-27 and they wouldn’t look back from there. Spencer Littleson connected on two consecutive 3-pointers to extend the lead to 45-29. Shamar Dillard came in for the Eagles and provided a spark off the bench as he found Jalen King for a dunk.
There weren't a lot of noteworthy plays for the Eagles in the second half as it seemed like Toledo just kept increasing their lead by the minute. The Rockets went on a 21-12 run, capped off by a Littleson breakaway dunk, as they built an insurmountable 68-45 lead. Dillard had a fast break dunk of his own with 2:25 left in the game.
Despite the loss, the Eagles did get some productivity from the bench as the EMU reserves outscored Toledo’s bench 21-2. Eastern Michigan also had a six-point advantage in points in the paint. Jackson led the Rockets with a game-high 26 points and five rebounds. Montero finished with 12 points and one assist for the Eagles.
“We just had to move the ball. You can’t simulate their length. Eastern’s defense is good. When you move the ball, good things happen against them and we moved the ball tonight,” said Toledo head coach Tod Kowalczyk. “We let Binelli get going. He was 4-for-5 but they only made one three in the second half which was huge for us.”
EMU will begin the MAC Tournament on Monday, March 9 on the road.