Eastern Michigan 56, Western Michigan 37
Sometimes, to paraphrase the great Scottish poet Robert Burns, the best laid plans of mice and men can go astray. In fact, this is usually the case, in sport and in life. It is therefore a rare thing when a plan is laid out, and it goes off without a hitch. Last night, Rob Murphy’s Eastern Michigan Eagles executed his 2-3 zone defense to perfection, completely disrupting the Western Michigan offense.
The result was a 56-37 victory for EMU, as they improve to 10-6 on the season and 2-1 in the MAC. Eastern held serve at home against a rival and a competitor for the title, and they did it with defense.
Last season, WMU knocked off Eastern in the MAC Tournament, and the Broncos were clearly the better team. One of the ways to beat a 2-3 zone is to run your offense through the high post area. The zone will have to give a little to cover the ball and the player can pass to an open man or shoot/drive if left unaccounted for. Darius Paul was extremely effective at this in last year’s game. With Paul enjoying a redshirt year at Illinois, Western lacked the personnel to exploit the zone.
Shayne Whittington tried, but as Rob Murphy noted, when Whittington is in the high post he is not under the basket feasting on rebounds. So even if Whittington was knocking down shots (he wasn’t, Shayne shot 3-12 from the floor on Tuesday), a major part of his game is neutralized. Connor Tava tried, but he came back down to earth after a couple of amazing performances, and finished with only 6 points on 1-4 shooting.
Without an effective presence in the high post, aside from David Brown’s 18 points, Western faltered. They turned the ball over 26 times, shot 25% from behind the arc, had zero fast break points, and scored six points in the paint for the entire game. Add eighteen steals by EMU and the defensive plan was devastatingly effective.
On a night when EMU’s star player, Glenn Bryant, ends up on SportsCenter with a Blake Griffin-esque throwdown dunk, a night where Darell Combs and Mike Talley net 14 each to lead the team, the player of the game was senior forward Daylen Harrison.
Daylen epitomized the defensive effort. At 6-6, he used his length to its best advantage, knocking away passes, securing loose balls, and eliminating passing lanes. Daylen had five steals, many of which were during a complete scoring drought by the EMU offense. Daylen’s defensive play kept Western from getting any closer than an eight point deficit
DaShonte Riley was in foul trouble yet again, and played only 21 minutes. While he was in the game, Riley was 100% engaged, diving for loose balls, altering shots, using his long arms to deflect passes near the hoop. The refs let a lot of physical play go uncalled, but DaShonte got whistled for a couple of really cheap fouls. He never let his frustration show, however, and with 5:03 left in the game DaShonte took a pass from Harrison, put the ball on the floor once, and jammed through a dunk that put Eastern up 46-35. At that point the Broncs were finished.
Rob Murphy’s 2-3 zone may not simmer to a delicious perfection every night, but last night, at the Convo against cross-state rival Western Michigan, the EMU basketball team showed what they could do defensively. The old adage is that “defense wins championships.” Step one towards winning a MAC West title, beating WMU at home, was done behind a memorable defensive effort.
- Another thing that wins championships is great point guard play. Mike Talley has really come into his own since the Oakland game. Talley knocked down three three’s last night, a couple in a row during an early run that left Western reeling.
- Glenn Bryant’s dunk was pretty special. Everyone in the building knew Glenn was gearing up for an epic dunk, except one dude, Western Michigan freshman Tucker Haymond, who for some reason decided to get between Glenn and the basket. Bad idea…
- Darell Combs moved into the starting lineup last night, and according to Rob Murphy the starting job is now Darell’s to lose. Murphy emphasized that the primary reason behind the switch from Raven Lee to Combs was defensive. Along with the upgrade defensively, Combs has looked much better on the offensive end than Lee in the last few weeks.
- Karrington Ward looked a little lost on the offensive end last night, as there seemed to be a lid on the hoop when Karrington was shooting. Imagine what happens when the defense clicks like this on a night when Karrington brings his A-game.
- Finally, props to the Western Michigan women’s basketball team, who showed up last night to cheer on the Broncs. The ladies were creative with the cheers/jeers, mixed it up with the Eastern student section, and distracted K-Ward by cooing at him during a free throw attempt. Well played, ladies, but I hope you lose tonight.