The Eastern Michigan Eagles fell behind by 13 points in the second half but recovered in time to escape with a 56-52 win over the Northern Illinois Huskies on Saturday afternoon. The victory keeps EMU in contention for the 4th seed in the MAC tournament and a bye to the third-round, while NIU drops into a three-way tie for the 7th seed with Miami and Kent State.
The first half was close throughout and rather low-scoring, and it included six ties and three different lead changes. After the final tied score of the half (18-18), Mike Talley was fouled while converting a layup with 5:08 left in the half. He sank the free throw to give EMU a brief 21-18 lead. That would be the final field goal of the half for the Eagles, as they would miss their last seven attempts.
NIU used the opportunity to go on a 10-0 run. After an Aksel Bolin jumper, Jordan Threloff poured in a layup to give the Huskies a 22-21 lead. Aaric Armstead also got a bucket, and the Huskies sank four free throws during the run. With 2:42 remaining on the clock, NIU led 28-21. The seven-point edge was the biggest either team would enjoy in the first half. Jalen Ross dropped in a free throw for EMU with 1:33 left, but otherwise the teams were scoreless over that final 2:42. Northern Illinois carried a 28-22 lead to halftime.
The Eagles began the second half with four straight points and finally ended their drought without a field goal at 7:18 when Talley put in a layup 2:10 into the half. At the five minute mark of the half, the Huskies still led by just two, but a score by Darrell Bowie sparked an 11-0 run over the next 2:30. Daveon Balls drilled a 3-pointer before he and Bowie each earned old-fashioned three-point plays. Meanwhile, Ball State missed five straight shots and fell behind 43-30.
EMU did not fold but instead spent the following four minutes on a 12-0 run. Six of the points came from the free throw line, and NIU missed three straight shots and were forced into two turnovers. All of a sudden, the Eagles trailed just 43-42, and 8:30 remained in the game.
The Huskies maintained a lead of one or two possessions until the final three minutes of the game. Up 52-48, they twice had the chance to extend their lead only to turn the ball over both times. After the first, Karrington Ward put back a layup after an offensive rebound. He then stole the ball from Bolin to give EMU a chance to tie. With 1:31 left in the game, the Eagles did just that on a jumper by Glenn Bryant.
On the other end, Bolin missed a 3-pointer just before the shot clock expired. Ward did the same for Eastern Michigan with 26 seconds left, but the ball went out of bounds off an NIU player. Talley drilled a trey after the in-bounds to give EMU the 55-52 lead. The Huskies missed their final three shots, and J.R. Sims sank a free throw with three seconds on the clock for the final 56-52 margin.
The amazing part of this comeback was that EMU did it without two starters down the stretch or a significant contribution from a third key player. Daylen Harrison fouled out with 7:41 left, and Da'Shonte Riley did the same two minutes later. Meanwhile, Glenn Bryant scored just seven points and pulled down only two rebounds in 25 minutes (he did have four blocks).
Neither team shot particularly well, especially from long range. Northern Illinois made 37.2 percent of their shots but just three of 14 from beyond the arc. Eastern Michigan was slightly worse by shooting 32.7 percent and going 3-for-17 on 3-pointers. One big area of separation was on the glass, where EMU earned a 38-28 edge in rebounds.
Talley led all scorers with 21 points, while Darell Combs finished with 11. The two combined for eight field goals in 24 attempts but were also 13-of-13 from the charity stripe. Armstead led Northern Illinois with 11 points. Two others scored nine for the Huskies.
EMU is now 9-7 in the MAC and 17-12 overall. The Eagles are tied for fifth place in the MAC's overall standings with Ohio and are one game back of fourth-place Akron. They play again on Tuesday night at home against Ball State. NIU drops to 13-15 overall and 7-9 in the MAC. Their next game is at Western Michigan on Tuesday night.