The past few hours are all a blur. I'm not quite certain what I witnessed, but I do know that it wasn't basketball. No, instead it was some mutation of the game that occurs every time Eastern Michigan and Northern Illinois face off.
Eastern Michigan did some EMU things. NIU (15-17, 8-11 MAC) did some NIU things, and in the end the No. 6 Eagles were declared the winners, 53-48, though I'm not sure anyone really won this game.
First let me say this: As bad as the second half was the officiating was even worse. There were several calls that had the nice family sitting behind me screaming about pay scales and sleeping patterns for much of the second half. I can't even count how many times the refs had to go to replay to determine a call, and the final few minutes of the game was full of terrible officiating. But this recap is not about officiating, so I digress.
This EMU-NIU matchup, the latest in a long line of painful "basketball" games, actually started off relatively well. The teams were moving the ball efficiently, if not rapidly, and had some nice runs to start the game.
The Huskies put together an 8-2 run to start the game before Karrington Ward, fresh off his stellar performance against CMU, sparked the Eagles offense. Ward, who finished with a game-high 13 points (on 2-of-10 from the field) and 12 rebounds, scored nine of his points in those first six minutes tying the game at 11 with 14:48 minutes to go. From there on the teams traded blows back and forth, albeit slowly, and were connecting on nearly 60 percent of their shots apiece at the 11 minute mark.
Then things started to get messy. Missed jumpers and sloppy turnovers led to a stagnant pace. With 4:44 in the half Glenn Bryant, who finished with 12 points on the night, sank a jumper to cut NIU's lead to 24-22. Then it was all Huskies from there. The Huskies entered halftime up 11 and in full control of the game.
The young guards were playing well, making wise decisions and Jordan Threloff was having some success in the post against Da'Shonte Riley, and the team as a whole had connected on nearly 50 percent of its shots, an unheralded success rate against the Eagles' zone defense.
Then something weird happened. This abnormally good Huskies-Eagles game disintegrated into its usual clobbering mess. The Huskies seemed zapped of all confidence as a renewed EMU defense held them without a field goal until the 13:52 mark. with 10 minutes to go in the half the Huskies had been outscored by EMU 13-7, and were clearly in trouble.
Shots stopped falling. The Huskies shooting percentage crumbled, and with it went everything else. Turnovers skyrocketed, and all told the Huskies coughed the rock up 11 times in the final 20 minutes. EMU wasn't playing much better, but it was playing just good enough to outpace NIU and tie the game at 42-42 with 8:38. Even with Riley having done an incredibly EMU thing with fouling out at the 10:18 mark, NIU couldn't build any momentum.
The game plodded on, with EMU scoring the final four points to take the win after a five minute officiating debacle, and capturing the win and we were given another memorable chapter in this nightmare of a book.
Some things to chew on:
- NIU made just 3-of-21 field goals in the second half.
- EMU made just 29 percent of its shots all game, with the starting lineup combining to go 3-for-23.
- 13 shots were blocked in this game. 4 apiece by Threloff and Bryant, 2 by Riley, 1 by Ward and 1 apiece by Aksel Bolin and Darrell Bowie.
In the end the Eagles advance on to face No. 3 Buffalo in the quarterfinals Thursday night. The game is set to tip off 30 minutes after the conclusion of the quarterfinal matchup between No. 5 Ohio and No. 4 Akron.