Akron 70, Eastern Michigan 62
Sometimes in basketball the flow of a game can resemble a boxing match. Tonight, a gritty Eastern Michigan team stood toe-to-toe with MAC leader Akron for thirty-five minutes before the Zips pulled away late. The Eastern 2-3 zone did its job for the most part on this night, but Akron senior Brian Walsh — who hit three big-time threes late in the fourth quarter — managed to work the defense and land the knockout blows.
With senior scoring guard Derek Thompson missing the game due to family concerns the Eagles were a little short on firepower, but did manage to mount a respectable offensive effort based on energy and at times sheer will. The play of Anthony Strickland personified the team’s effort tonight. Strickland was all over the court making plays driving to the hoop, drawing fouls and then proceeding to go 8-8 from the line, pulling down four rebounds, and putting forth a strong defensive effort. Strickland also led the team with four assists, and minutes played with thirty-three.
Before the game I posted on Facebook that the key matchup was Da’Shonte Riley versus All-MAC Akron center Zeke Marshall. The numbers tell a good deal of the story on their own: Riley had 6 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 steals. Marshall had 12 points, 4 rebounds, 3 blocks and 3 steals. While the numbers do give Zeke an edge, it should be noted that Riley frustrated Marshall for a good portion of this game. This was another strong outing by Riley.
Point guard play was troublesome this evening, however. The education of Jalen Ross continued, and the hope is that the lessons he is learning now will pay dividends in the future. Ross did put down some late buckets and free throws that helped keep the game close. J.R. Sims again proved that he is capable of running the point, and they did force Akron senior point guard Alex Abreu into nine turnovers – an impressive feat.
In the end, however, Akron had too many weapons in their arsenal. Zeke Marshall came alive in the late stages of the game, Brian Walsh hit the big threes, and the Zips extended their MAC record to 11-0.
This was an effort to build on, though. Eastern has a revenge road game this Saturday against Ball State. It is time to pick up the first road win and begin the push toward the tourney. If the season is a boxing match, it is getting late in the fight and the Eagles have taken their share of punches. But the fight ain’t over yet…
- Daylen Harrison got in a little foul trouble early and was on the bench down the homestretch. Without Thompson in the lineup a big scoring game out of Harrison would have been helpful.
- Glenn Bryant can be damn near unstoppable when driving to the hoop, which makes it maddening when he chooses to spot up for a three or take a contested turn-around jumper. Whether it is a lay-in, a drawn foul, or one of his signature dunks, good things happen when Bryant takes the ball to the basket.
- At the post-game press conference, Rob Murphy took umbrage with a capital U with what I wrote in my last post about the likelihood of his return next season. Murphy emphatically stressed his commitment to Eastern, his roots in the community, and how he is working to build the program for the long term. It should be noted that what I wrote was in no way presented as factual, merely the opinion of one writer. Conversations with and comments by you, the readers, have shown that there was fear (yes, I am using the word fear) among the community of Eastern basketball fans that Murphy might not be on board for the long term. While no writer wants their words to intrude upon the real story — the roller coaster ride that has been the 2012-2013 season — I was glad to hear Murphy speak with such passion about what he wants to build here. The team has hit a rough patch this season, but the program looks set up for a bright future. Better point guard play and another scorer to complement the stingy 2-3 zone could mean serious trouble for the rest of the MAC.
- Another issue I have taken heat for is my criticism of attendance and the lack of students in the student section. Once again, this is not meant to be critical of the students that are at the games. The students in attendance are hardcore and give their all. They are TRUEMU, all 50-75 of them. This team plays hard. They deserve more than the 672 wonderful people who showed up for an entertaining battle against Akron.