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The Eastern Echo Saturday, May 25, 2024 | Print Archive
The Eastern Echo

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Eastern Michigan men's hoops knocks off defending MAC champions Kent State after game-winning floater from Orlando Lovejoy

Lovejoy finishes with 16 points while Connor Serven adds 15 for the Eagles

It was a nail-biting finish inside the George Gervin GameAbove Center as the Eastern Michigan University men's basketball team defeated the defending Mid-American Conference champions Kent State University after a game-winning floater from Orlando Lovejoy gave the Eagles the 71-69 win at the buzzer. 

“He’s battled injuries all offseason, and he’s not even at full strength right now,” EMU Head Coach Stan Heath said. “The hardness of that kid, the toughness, he’s a special guy and I'm glad he’s on our side. He sets the tone for us defensively and for us to have success, we have to be a good defensive team, and he leads that charge.”

An old friend of EMU head coach Stan Heath is the Kent State men's basketball team, as Heath served as the Golden Flashes head coach during the 2001-02 season. During his time, Heath led Kent State to the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight. 

“If it’s not Eastern Michigan, I’m one of Kent’s biggest cheerleaders,” Heath said. “Those are some of my closest friends, they accelerated my career, but obviously this [EMU] is my alma mater so I have love here.”

Things would go the Eagles' way in the first couple of minutes of play as redshirt junior Connor Serven (Prairie City, Ill.) threw down a slam dunk to give EMU an 8-6 lead with 15:53 left to play in the first half. 

The Golden Flashes would answer back as they built a 23-17 lead, but junior forward Jalin Billingsley (Cleveland, Ohio) would euro-step his way for a bucket to cut the Eagles' deficit, 23-21, with 5:28 left in the first half. 

The rest of the half would be all Kent State as the Golden Flashes went on a 10-0 run to close out the first half with a 38-26 advantage.

Shooting would be the key to success for Kent State in the first half as the Golden Flashes shot 60% from the field (15-25) while the Eagles shot just 40% (10-25). The difference would be the three-point shooting as Kent State shot 55% from beyond the arc to EMU's 14%. 

Kent State would continue its hot streak in the second half of play as the Golden Flashes ran out to a 49-32 lead before the Eagles would go on a 7-0 run highlighted by a three-pointer from freshman Arne Osojnik (Ljubljana, Slovenia) to cut the deficit to 49-39 with 12:09 to play. 

The Eagles came soaring back as an 11-3 run resulted in EMU coming within two of Kent State, 53-51, with 7:33 left to play. Then, after trading some baskets, the Golden Flashes would attempt to steal the Eagles' momentum as they built their lead to 62-56 with 4:10 remaining. 

EMU would then battle back within four points right before junior guard Tyson Acuff (Detroit, MI.) would hit a three-pointer to cut the score, to 63-64, with 38 seconds left to play. 

An intentional foul would send Kent State to the free-throw line where they would convert both to go up, 66-63, but the Eagles would come down and swing it Osojnik as he hit the go-ahead three-pointer to tie things up, 66-66, and sent it to overtime. 

In overtime, both sides would trade baskets to put the score at 69-69 with a little over 20 seconds left to play. The Eagles would put the ball into the hands of sophomore guard Orlando Lovejoy (Detroit, MI.) as he would hit the game-winning floater to win it for the Eagles at the buzzer, 71-69. 

“When you beat a team like Kent, just mentally it makes you feel like okay we have a good team and can beat people,” Heath said. “I think this win can do a lot for us, but we have to be locked in for tomorrow and get ready for Central Michigan. The MAC is the MAC, there’s no easy games, I don’t care who you are.”

Despite losing the shooting battle in the first half, the Eagles would finish the game shooting 47.5% from the field (28-59) while the Golden Flashes shot 46.4% (26-56). 

Lovejoy led the Eagles offensively as he finished with 16 points, three rebounds, three steals, and two assists, while freshman Connor Serven finished with 15 points and eight rebounds. Acuff chipped in 11 points. 

“Acuff’s our guy but he didn't have his best game as Kent State was all over him, but to see other guys step up, it’s not going to do anything but make our team better in the long run,” Heath said.

Next up, the EMU men's basketball team will host Central Michigan University inside the G3 on Tuesday, Jan. 9. That game is scheduled to tip-off at 7 p.m. and will be streamed live on ESPN+.