The Eastern Michigan Eagles gave themselves a solid boost Tuesday night, ensuring they will be seeded no lower than No. 6 in the upcoming MAC Tournament, even if they lose their season-finale. EMU smothered Ball State winning 72-58 at home on Senior Night.
The Eagles controlled this game throughout, leading by as many as 11 early on, and ballooning that to a 15-point lead halfway through the second half. Going with an all-senior starting lineup EMU was big to start the game with three forwards and a center on the court. Those bigs played a crucial role in the Eagles' hot start, giving them a 12-6 lead just a few minutes in. But it was the play of the bench, which featured several regular starters tonight, that made the difference.
Darell Combs, Ray Lee and Mike Talley lead the Eagles with 12, 12 and 10 respectively, and Talley orchestrated a controlled offensive attack throughout the game. The eagles zone-defense proved too much for Ball State's guard duo of Jesse Berry and Zavier Turner to deal with as the duo went a combined 5-for-16 from the field and netted just 17 combined points. The duo is normally the best 3-point shooting tandem in the league, but made just one of their nine attempts on the night.
With EMU's guards, and fresher legs, outplaying BSU, the brunt of the offensive output fell on the Cardinals' senior big men Majok Majok and Chris Bond, who actually put up impressive individual performances. Majok led the game with 23 points and 14 rebounds, dominating EMU's 7-footer Da'Shonte Riley and holding him to just four rebounds and two points. Bond added 11 and six. But neither's performance was enough to bust the zone and make up for EMU's experience.
All told 10 Eastern players scored in the contest, with 12 logging at least two minutes of action.
Ball State was able to nibble away at EMU's lead at times, mostly due to the Eagles' own poor shooting performance (40 percent, compared to BSU's 36 percent) but never got it closer in the second half than the six points it trailed at halftime. With Combs, Glenn Bryant and Karrington Ward all chipping in down the stretch EMU took a commanding lead down the stretch and sealed the win.
The victory all but ensured that BSU, which is having one of its worst seasons ever under first-year head coach James Whitford, will finish last in the conference and earn the dreaded No. 12 seed in the MAC Tournament. The Cardinals wrap things up Saturday on the road at NIU on Saturday, a team they lost to by 2 in overtime. The Cardinals would need a win vs. NIU and a loss by CMU to get the No. 11 seed.
EMU concludes its season on the road Saturday as well, at current No. 2 seed Toledo. The Eagles upset the Rockets 65-44 back in mid-February.