Missouri State 57, Eastern Michigan 54
A bad loss is a bad loss. It can be argued that Saturday’s defeat at the hand of the 8-20 Missouri State Bears didn’t matter at this point of the season, it wasn’t a MAC game and has no bearing on what may or may not be accomplished by the 2012-2013 Eagles. It was still a bad loss. A complete giveaway. An uninspired performance down the stretch by the players, questionable coaching decisions, and (as much as I hate to go there) bad officiating all contributed to dropping a game at home that should never have been lost. Time for the post-mortem.
Eastern certainly started out strong, early threes by Sims, Thompson, and a dunk by Glenn Bryant seemed to start things off on the right foot. Missouri State hung close, but after a couple nice plays by Austin Harper to get to the free throw line and a Daylen Harrison three, EMU was up 26-13. This was turning into a rout.
At the end of the first half, Eastern was up by eight. Missouri State, one of the youngest teams in the country, was completely flummoxed by the EMU 2-3 zone. They resorted to heaving up contested threes, and shot 2-13 from long distance in the first half. Their tallest player is 6-7, surely Eastern’s size would be too much for the young team from the Missouri Valley Conference to overcome.
The second half would not play out according to script. Missouri State refused to give up, and came out on a 7-0 run to start the half. Derek Thompson hit a three, and was fouled for a four point play to get Eastern back up by seven. Play went back and forth until Thompson, who led the Eagles in scoring with 19 points, banked a shot off the glass to put Eastern up by nine, 43-34 with 9:32 left to go. Then Rob Murphy called a timeout.
After the game, Assistant Coach Kevin Mondro said that Murphy had called the timeout to give the five on the floor a breather. I won’t second guess the reason, but the effect of the timeout changed the momentum of the game. From that point on, Missouri State outscored Eastern 23-11.
In one two minute stretch in the second half, Eastern turned the ball over four times. Then Missouri State went on a 12-0 run, where Eastern proceeded to turn the ball over three more times. Missouri State took advantage of these seven turnovers, and grabbed the game from Eastern. I wrote earlier in the week that the BG loss still stings. This one stings worse. With extreme prejudice.
The fact that Eastern was unable to exploit their advantage in size and athleticism is difficult to understand. The only player who appeared to be using their size to disrupt the opposition was Matt Balkema, who pulled down 6 rebounds in only 13 minutes. Offensive limitations aside, Missouri State had no answer for Balkema’s bulk down low.
The most inexplicable moment of the game happened with 31 seconds left and EMU trailing by three. Derek Thompson had just coolly knocked down a triple to cut the margin to three, and considering the dismal performance by MO State at the line, the game was still in reach. Unfortunately, Thompson then committed his fifth foul in an obvious fouling situation, in what Mondro described as a “team play.” I understand the sentiment, but are you really being a team player if you remove yourself from the game? Thompson was the best offensive player on the court on this day, how can his removal be seen as anything other than a disaster? Where were his teammates? It should have been covered in the timeout that Thompson was not to commit a foul. Maybe it was, but there is also an argument to be made that Thompson should have been brought off the floor to prevent the fifth foul from happening. Either way, Thompson’s offensive punch was needed and he was of no use on the bench.
The upshot is that Antoine Chandler (and not Glenn Bryant or Daylen Harrison) was brought in. Chandler, cold from spending the game on the bench, missed the front end of a crucial one-and-one, and Eastern’s chances dissolved.
As a side note, Chandler’s one-and-one should not have happened if the officials called the game consistently. Contact was made when Chandler drove the lane and made a nice dish to Balkema for what would have been an easy lay-up. This was a type of contact that had been allowed all game long. After the game, Chandler was noticeably upset with himself. As Mondro stated at the post-game press conference, “Antoine Chandler didn’t lose this game for us.” How true. Chandler had nothing to do with the seven turnovers down the stretch. I took his reaction as a mirror of the team’s pain for giving this one away. It had to hurt.
The spin after the game focused on the fact that this wasn’t a MAC game, and that a strong finish is still a possibility. This is indeed true, but the inability to hold off a twenty loss team at home does not bode well for future match-ups with Western Michigan and Toledo. Maybe the team can rally and put the hurt from this game behind them. In the mean time, this is a thick pot of gruel that must be endured for the next few days.
Wednesday night at Northern Illinois, Eastern will have a chance to pick up their second road win against a Huskies team that has their own demons to exorcise.
- My argument from earlier in the season that Eastern should be playing Missouri Valley teams in non-conference games appears to have been validated. Obviously, this turned into a tight game. EMU will have a chance for revenge when they visit the Bears in Springfield for a non-conference game either next year or 2014-2015.
- My case for the best five being Sims, Thompson, Harrison, Bryant, and Riley seems to also have been validated as this was the starting lineup today. Unfortunately, they did not play well as a unit, especially Bryant, who only had 4 points and 3 rebounds in 23 minutes. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if Eastern is to do big things they need a big contribution from Bryant.
- Anthony Strickland was in foul trouble and unable to get into the flow of the game. Too bad as Strickland’s energy was needed down the stretch.
- Jalen Ross played four minutes today. Some of this was due in part to a solid effort by Austin Harper, but it appears that the coaching staff has lost some confidence in the freshman point guard. Ross has been asked to do quite a lot this year, and the prognosis for a successful career at EMU is still promising.