Toledo 60, Eastern Michigan 52
I don’t want to tout my prognostication skills, but this is a line from my first basketball post this season:
“The problem is what wins in college basketball, more than frontline depth or having a prolific scorer, is quality point guard play. These guys need to grow up fast in order for Eastern to truly compete with the best of the MAC.”
Nine games into the MAC schedule and my fears from the first game have come to fruition – our point guard play is holding us back. Last night, the Eastern basketball team played a hard fought game at Toledo, but could not overcome the fact that this team does not have a creative floor general, or even a consistent scoring point guard like Darrell Lampley from last year.
I give you, gentle reader, exhibit A: the assist to turnover ratio from last night. Eastern had six assists to NINETEEN turnovers. And yes, please picture me yelling the word nineteen. Rob Murphy has had to reach to the bench for more minutes for Austin Harper, and while Harper is good for ten minutes or so of contribution as a backup, his weaknesses get exposed the more he plays. This is different from Jalen Ross, who suffers from a lack of experience which leads to extremely poor decision making. Ross, the future of the position for EMU, had zero assists and four turnovers.
There were other problems last night. Derek Thompson had an uncharacteristic off game. He was 2-12 from the floor, including a 2-8 performance from behind the arc. But his lack of production was picked up by Daylen Harrison, who had 19 points and 10 boards and came on very strong in the second half.
Also, I have been quick to declare Da’Shonte Riley an underachiever this season, so let me point out that Riley played what I thought was one of his best games as an Eagle last night. Riley’s line — 6 points, 13 rebounds, 4 blocks and a steal — is pretty indicative of how he played. He tore down rebounds with serious authority, and altered at least as many shots as he blocked. We will see if he can bring it on Wednesday night when he squares up against Akron’s Zeke Marshall.
When I talked to Coach Murphy after the game, it was clear to me that he recognized the problem. The point guard play is not going to be at a level that will carry us to big things in the MAC this year. On that note I asked Murphy about Ray Lee, and Murphy seemed pretty realistic about Lee’s chances of returning, or even contributing if he does return. I would expect that we will be hearing of a medical redshirt for Lee. He could still have four years of eligibility left, and in my opinion it would be a complete waste to use up a year of eligibility for him in exchange for what would probably be a minimal contribution this season. I just hope Murphy doesn’t, in a fit of desperation, have Lee waste a year of eligibility on the chance he can take over at the point. Nothing I saw out of Lee earlier in the season would leave me to believe that Lee is a savior. He is inconsistent just like Ross.
What does last night’s loss mean for Eastern? It probably means a MAC West repeat is out of the question. Does this mean the season is a total loss? Surprisingly, I say no. While last year’s MAC West title was a nice accomplishment, I still remember the first round tourney loss. With the harassing 2-3 zone that Murphy employs, Eastern might be able to cause fits for teams in a tournament setting. It may be unlikely that a run in the MAC tourney will be in store for the Eagles, but it is a possibility. At least we won’t have to face Toledo in the tourney.
- Glenn Bryant was in foul trouble all game long last night, partly from a technical he received for dropping a bomb full of smack on Toledo after sending a shot of theirs into the stands. I like Bryant’s fiery personality, but a little bit of discipline would go a long way for him.
- Matt Balkema played eight minutes last night, and Jamell Harris played thirteen. The two seniors combined for twenty-one minutes while Anthony Strickland played twenty four minutes. His line: 0 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 2 turnovers and 1 blocked shot. While I do like some things about Strickland’s game, these two seniors have to play and have to succeed if EMU is to accomplish anything this season. Especially considering the game Balkema had against Buffalo last week.
- The attendance at the game last night was 4,252. This is approximately five games worth of attendance for Eastern. And don’t give me any crap about winning curing this problem. When was the last time Toledo won anything in hoops?
- At the post game press conference, Murphy said something that made my antennae perk up. While he was talking about the future of the program, he said, “Moving forward we’ll be fine, uh, the program will be fine, we’re on our way.” The subtle change from, “we”, to “the program”, back to “we” again makes me wonder about Murphy’s future, especially considering his near departure for a NBA scouting position last summer. Once again, I hope Murphy stays but I can’t help but think that the most optimistic forecast of Murphy’s return next season is 50%.