The Eastern Michigan Eagles men’s basketball team defeated the Akron Zips in the Mid-American Conference Tournament quarterfinals, 67-58, Thursday, March 8, at Quicken Loans Arena. No. 3-seeded EMU (21-11, 12-7 MAC) gained the lead for the first time with just two minutes left in regulation, finishing on a 21-1 run and defeating No. 11 UA (14-18; 6-13 MAC) for the first time in the postseason in school history. Eastern Michigan, which was down 19 points early in the second half, overcame its largest deficit of the season.
With the victory, EMU advances to a semifinal matchup against the Toledo Rockets, Friday, March 9. The game is scheduled to begin at approximately 9 p.m., depending on when the first semifinal matchup between No. 5 Kent State Golden Flashes and No 1. Buffalo Bulls concludes.
Head coach Rob Murphy’s Eagles advance to the semifinals for the first time since 2013-14. Murphy, who is 9-6 all-time in MAC Tournament games, will coach in the semis for the second time in his seventh year at the helm of the EMU men’s basketball program.
Redshirt junior Elijah Minnie paced EMU’s offensive attack with 21 points off of 8-for-16 shooting from the field. Minnie also hauled in 14 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the season. Senior Tim Bond and redshirt junior Paul Jackson contributed 15 points apiece, with Bond also grabbing eight boards and forcing four steals. Bond now has 81 total thefts in 2017-18, which gives him the EMU single-season record.
Eastern finished the game shooting 45.7 percent from the field and knocked down 19-of-22 free throws. Akron went 39.6 percent from the floor and 7-for-13 effort from the charity stripe.
The Eagles started the game flat, falling into a quick hole after Akron put together a 10-0 run to start the matchup. EMU received a spark after Bond knocked down a turnaround jumper from the elbow for Eastern’s first points of the game. From there, the Green and White slowly chipped away at the Zips’ lead, coming within three near the midway point of the first half. However, Akron’s ability to convert off of turnovers kept the Zips ahead. UA finished the opening half outscoring Eastern 12-4 off of turnovers.
At halftime, UA held a 31-22 lead with a significant edge over EMU from deep. The Zips connected at a 41.7 percent clip from three, compared to Eastern’s 18.2 percent. Additionally, two of EMU’s starting five found themselves in foul trouble early on, as Bond ended the first half with three fouls, including a technical, while junior James Thompson IV had two of his own.
The start of the second half mirrored much of the beginning of the game. Akron knocked down a trio of three-pointers in the first three minutes of play to extend its lead, 34-24. After the Zips went on a 15-5 run to start the second stanza, frustration took hold, as Thompson IV picked up his fourth foul of the night along with the matchup’s third technical with 13:39 left on the clock. It was not until the eight-minute mark that the Eagles were able to close the gap to 10. Jackson converted an and-one, and Bond knocked down both free throws after Akron was given the fourth overall technical of the evening.
The Eagles began to heat up for the first time of the night, going on a 15-3 run which was capped off by a corner three from Minnie before Akron was forced to call a timeout with four minutes left in regulation. Out of the timeout, the Green and White continued to pour it on, with redshirt junior Jordan Nobles hitting from deep and Jackson converting an old fashioned three-point play on back-to-back possessions to give EMU the lead for the first time of the night, 59-57, with 2:23 on the clock.
From there it was all Eagles, as Eastern held Akron to just four points in the last 6:57 to complete the comeback, 67-58, and punch its ticket to the semifinals.