Eastern Michigan ran away from Central Michigan to a 72-59 win, after a tightly played first half and soared to 3-1 in MAC league play, leaving the Chippewas winless and grasping for answers.
Central Michigan took the early lead, heading into the first timeout up 6-5 after a long 3-pointer from Rayshawn Simmons.
Both teams pressured ball-handlers throughout the first half and played tough extended zone defenses. While Da'Shonte Riley may be a special impact defender, neither team had an inside scorer who could establish himself sufficiently to draw perimeter defenders in to help. This led to both teams launching a number of long 3-pointers after possessions marked by perimeter passing that failed to threaten an inside bucket.
The first half offensive problems were different for the two teams. For the Eagles, Mike Talley and Ray Lee were occasionally quick enough to dribble penetrate, but got up in the air with no good shot and often no good targets for a pass. For the Chips, there was no dribble penetration of note. They attempted to work the ball to the elbow or baseline with quick passing, but John Simons or Blake Hibbits would often look to pass immediately, seemingly intimidated by Riley's presence in the middle.
Central Michigan yet again suffered a long scoring drought in a game, this time going from the 15:07 mark to the 6:58 mark stuck on 8 points. Their excellent defense kept the game close, and when they broke the drought with a Spencer Krannitz layup, they trailed only 12-10. Riley converted a conventional 3-point play in response to extend the lead for EMU, but the Chippewas fought back to tie at 19 with an Austin Stewart triple.
The Eagles reclaimed the lead going to the lockers at 25-21. Mike Talley finished the first half scoring for EMU with two free throws, and was the leading scorer in the first half with 9 points. The teams combined for 14-48 from the floor in the half, including 4-20 from long range. Karrington Ward had 9 first half rebounds, but shot 1-7 from the floor, almost all longer range jump shots.
Chris Fowler opened the second half scoring. I'm guessing most of you aren't spending a lot of time watching the 0-4 Chippewas, but Fowler has a smooth, sweet jump shot. He also showcased a pretty 10 foot right-handed teardrop at times in the second half.
Both teams came out ready to push the pace, and slowly but surely this favored the Eagles. Consecutive steals spawned layups at the offensive end, and Eastern Michigan pushed the lead to 44-33.
Besides Fowler, the other Chippewa who looked for his shot and made things happen on the offensive end was Austin Stewart. Stewart, a 6'6" sophomore listed as a guard, really played more of a 3 position, and wasn't shy about making moves on the baseline or in the paint. Stewart hit back-to-back shots to pull CMU to within 7 at 44-37.
A turning point in the game was next, as Central Michigan drew a double technical foul, and Mike Talley sank 4 foul shots followed by a jumper on the possession awarded after the free throws.
It looked like EMU might pull away with a 60-48 lead under the 4 minute mark, but there was still fire in the collective Chippewa belly. CMU tightened on defense and scored on 3 consecutive possessions to once again narrow the lead, now to 60-54. Uncharacteristically, Chris Fowler missed 2 foul shots that could have pulled the Chips closer, and the air went out of the rally.
Central Michigan still leads the all-time series with Eastern Michigan, 98-88. The two teams will meet again in Ypsilanti on February 26th. EMU now goes home for 3 straight, including dates with Akron and Ohio in the next week. Those results will define whether the 3-1 Eagles make a run for the top tier or settle comfortably into the middle range of MAC basketball. The red & gold Chippewas go on the road for 3 of their next 4, including a visit to Oxford to face surprising Miami this week. Unfortunately for the youngest team in the MAC, the outlook is grim, and at this point only Ball State and Bowling Green figure to compete for the bottom with CMU.