In a matchup between the conference's top offense and its top defense, it was Eastern Michigan's vaunted 2-3 zone that prevailed in the Eagles' 65-44 victory over Toledo Saturday afternoon in the Convocation Center in Ypsilanti.
Facing a team in Toledo (21-4, 9-3 MAC) that hadn't scored less than 71 points all season, Eastern Michigan (15-10, 7-5 MAC) held the MAC's highest-scoring team to just 25 percent shooting for the contest. Mike Talley and Karrington Ward led the Eagles with 13 points apiece, and Da'Shonte Riley added 6 points, 8 rebounds and 7 blocks.
Though not known for their offensive output, Eastern Michigan came out ice cold to begin the game. The Rockets took advantage, working the ball inside to Pierson and Garber to get to the foul line. Toledo used a 9-0 run to take a five-point lead.
But as the game was Eastern's top-ranked defense that set the pace for the rest of the first half, a period that saw only 48 points combined between the two teams. The Eagle's zone bothered the Rockets, forcing them to shoot just 24 percent from the field. For a seven-minute span, the Rockets failed to record a field goal and allowed Eagles to build their own 9-0 run. Two back-to-back threes from Mike Talley and Karrington Ward helped give Eastern a four-point halftime lead.
It was more of the same in the second half, as both teams struggled to put points on the board. Through the first media timeout, each team had managed to scored only two points. The Eagles wouldn't record a field goal until five minutes into the half, and it would take the Rockets an additional two minutes to make their first.
When Toledo was able to get the ball inside to big men J.D. Weatherspoon and Justin Drummond, it likely didn't end well. The duo combined for just six points and seven rebounds on the afternoon. To make matters worse, the Rockets could not find their rhythm from behind the arc, and shot just 28 percent from three.
Even when Toledo was making deep shots, Eastern Michigan found a way to swing the momentum back in their favor. After Jonathon Williams hit a 3 pointer to cut the Eagle lead to seven with five minutes remaining, senior guard J.R. Sims responded with a transition layup, a steal and an assist to Glenn Bryant who took the house down with a thunderous dunk.
With the victory, Eastern Michigan pulls within two games of Toledo for the top spot in the conference. If Buffalo defeats Ohio at home or if Akron can knock off NIU, the Rockets will find themselves in a tie for first.
Eastern Michigan will return to action Wednesday when they travel to DeKalb to take on Northern Illinois. Also on Wednesday, Toledo will travel to take on rival Bowling Green.
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