Both teams got off to a very slow start, but progressed as time went on. Karrington Ward started off with only two points in the first half, but drained four 3-pointers in a row during the second half to help the Eagles get passed their in-state rival.
Most of the Eagles' shot attempts in the first half were 3-pointers, but only hit three of those 12 before heading into the locker room. As for Central Michigan, 16 of the team's 26 shot attempts were taken by Braylon Rayson (3-for-9) and Chris Fowler (1-for-7), but even they had a combined field goal percentage of 25 percent.
Playing against Central Michigan's zone defense, EMU coach Rob Murphy knew that his team was going to have to shoot the long ball
"They play zone just as much, or more than anybody, about their school," Murphy said in the post-game press conference. "I thought we settled a little too much, but against that team, I'm always inviting inviting the 3-point shot if you're open. In the second half, we had the same shots and we made them."
In the second half, EMU shot 56.3 percent from 3-point range (9-for-16), including Ward's hot streak. He was 6-for-7 in 3-pointers in that half, including when Mike Talley and Raven Lee helped assisting him into draining back-to-back-to-back-to-back long balls. This all happened while the Eagles were in the middle of going on an 18-0 run.
"I felt like I was just pushing it [in the first half]," Ward said. "I was just trying to play hard on defense, that's usually what I do... Then the offense will just come along."
Another thing that worked well in Eastern Michigan's favor is their ability to stay out of foul trouble. Not a single player committed more than two fouls all game. Moreover, Da'Shonte Riley of all people played 33 minutes without committing a single personal foul.
"Moving forward, we don't want to fall in love with the 3-point line, but if you're open, I want these guys to be confident enough to step up and make them."
At the end of the night, Ward was 7-for-13 from the floor (6-for-9 in 3-pointers) with 20 points, eight rebounds, two assists and four turnovers.
Eagle forward Daylen Harrison acted as EMU's "glue guy" and played a solid 37 minutes. He was 6-for-9 from the floor with 13 points with a pair of blocks. Talley and Lee were also in double-digits with 11 points each, shooting a combined 36.8 percent from the floor. Talley had eight assists, Lee ended up with four.
Central Michigan's Chris Fowler had a quiet night, finishing 2-for-12 from the floor, draining four free throws to get his point total up to nine. Even though he played 32 minutes, his playing time was somewhat limited, having to head to the bench once he picked up his fourth personal foul.
Braylon Rayson had the most shot attempts with 13, making only four of those field goals. He also ended the night with only nine points and four personal fouls.
The leading scorers for the Chippewas were John Simons (14 points, 5-for-11) and Blake Hibbitts (11 points, 3-for-7, all 3-point field goals). Austin Keel picked up 10 points of his own from the bench in his 17 minutes of work, going 4-for-5 from the floor.
Eastern Michigan will now head down to Cleveland to take on Northern Illinois in the second round of the MAC Tournament. The two will tip off right after Ohio and Miami play face off in their game, which starts at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 12.
Get your popcorn ready.