The Eastern Michigan Eagles (6-3) remain undefeated at home in five contests after beating a third Division-II opponent 86-58. Like they have against other NAIA teams, EMU got off to a hot start against the Rochester College (8-1) Rochester just had no shot in this game. Most people already know that Eastern Michigan's defense is more threatening than its offense, but they were rolling on all cylinders against the undefeated NAIA school. It's not every day the Eagles put up 51 points in the first half, but that's what happens when you're playing on cruise control.
Clog up passing lanes, create turnovers, capitalize on it all with fast break points: that's Eastern Michigan defense. Coming into the game averaging a MAC-best 11 steals per game, the Eagles caused 21 turnovers (20 points off off of them, 23 on the fast break) with 15 steals (Ty Toney, Willie Mangum with three a piece).
"Obviously this program is built on defense and rebounding," head coach Rob Murphy said after the game. "Deflections and steals: we concentrate on that. If you get a deflection, it leads to a steal. A steal leads to a transition lay-up or a transition (3-point shot). That's something we work on every day... I thought tonight we didn't allow them to get comfortable."
Despite shooting 38 percent from the floor this year averaging a little over 14 attempts per game, he still finds a way to break double-digits in scoring more often than not. Following up with a 15-point performance at Penn State, the transfer guard led the game with 22 points, hitting 80 percent of his shots and both of his free throws.
"I feel comfortable taking shots, just make sure I take good shots," Mangum said after the game. In the closing moments of the first half, Mangum stole the inbound pass from RC, assisted to Raven Lee on the fast break by passing it off the backboard for an easy lay up. Murphy noted that he could've put up a shot instead of having the assist, "it's not about me, it's about we."
Making his ninth start as a freshman, James Thompson recorded his fifth double-double as he continued to be a dominant player on both ends of the court. 17 points (7-for-10) with 11 rebounds, these stat lines are starting to become so normal that it's pretty much the standard. After playing basically all of last road contest against Penn State, backup center Jordan Nobles was able to see the floor for 14 minutes to have some in-game experience that he missed last year as a redshirt. "At some point, (Thompson) is going to need some rest... I thought Nobles was solid, he has to get stronger he has to react a little quicker... but he's doing a lot of learning today."
"We're still learning right now," Murphy said. "And I think we're pretty good in the learning stages, and I'm glad we have a long way to go because I think this team can be a really good basketball team when the time is right."
EMU shot 43 percent from the field coming into the game, the turnovers helped them shoot at a 53.2 percent clip, making 82 percent of their free throws too. Led by Lee with 11, the team had 27 points off of the bench.
The Eagles have a big opportunity to play a ranked opponent (No. 22) on the road this Saturday at Louisville. The Cardinals were an Elite Eight team in last season's NCAA Tournament and won the national championship just three seasons ago.