A year ago, Eastern had a knack for winning close, albeit ugly, games. A team that lacked offensive talent was able to scrap and fight and pull out victory in the end. A few seniors from that team are gone, and upon reflection it was those three players — Darrell Lampley, Antonio Green, and Quintin Dailey – who seemed to make the big shots or the late buckets to win the game.
After the tough, two-point loss to Ball State last week, Coach Rob Murphy commented that he hoped bringing in new players would “change the culture” at Eastern. Those players are Da’Shonte Riley, Glenn Bryant, and Daylen Harrison. What surprised Murphy was that the real team leaders are Derek Thompson, Jamell Harris, and J.R. Sims. Harrison has been pretty solid, but watching Riley and Bryant you can’t help but wonder what Syracuse and Arkansas saw in these guys…
So the culture is what it was. A scrappy, defensive oriented team that gets by on limited talent. The razor’s edge we walked on last year has proven to be a little more slippery in 2012-2013. It certainly was in effect on Saturday, when Bowling Green took the lead in the final seconds on a NBA three by Jordan Crawford. Another close game. Another ugly game. And unfortunately, another loss.
Riley did play better against BG, even knocking down a turnaround jumper late in the game that left me shocked to see such a demonstrative offensive move from the big man. The Ball State game, however, was a different story. Easily the worst game of Riley’s EMU career, the seven-foot center had a grand total of zero rebounds in 23 minutes. This in a game that Eastern was outrebounded by a marigin of 29-16, and lost by two points. Go figure.
Is it time to panic, as was posed by Eagle Totem reader Carl Lumberg? I’m going to have to go ahead and say…yes. The team still can’t win on the road. They gave one away to Ball State in the home opener. The offensive production is too limited. And most importantly, the rationale behind the season — the change of culture provided by Riley, Bryant, and Harrison — is collapsing.
It is not too late to turn the ship around. Murphy could still get these guys to max out defensively and pull out a 9-7 record in a weak MAC West. But if anyone is expecting Glenn Bryant or Da’Shonte Riley to all of the sudden start producing like first team All-MAC players, they best not hold their breath.
The fate of this team is in the hands of Derek Thompson, Jamell Harris, Jalen Ross, and J.R. Sims. If only Bryant, Riley, and to a lesser extent Harrison could match their intensity. Maybe they could adapt to the existing culture provided by this group. Because right now the only change I have seen is that we are losing the close games.