The Eastern Michigan Eagles used a scrappy zone defense and dominating offensive rebounding to eliminate the Bowling Green Falcons, 73-67 in the second round of the 2015 Mid-American Conference Tournament in Cleveland, Ohio on Wednesday night.
The Falcons were the tournament's number five seed and had beaten the eighth-seeded Eagles earlier in the year in Bowling Green by a 74-58 score. But this is tournament time and this game was a completely different affair.
BG's Richuan Holmes, the MAC's defensive player of the year, was supposedly questionable for this game but it didn't look like it early. Holmes started the game, scored 16 first half points and seemed to be his old self after suffering a head injury in the season finale at Buffalo.
But the real story of this game was the play of Eastern Michigan guards Raven Lee and Mike Talley. They scored 15 and 14 first-half points respectively to give the Eagles a 40-39 lead at halftime in a very closely played game.
The second half was equally tight as the two teams traded leads numerous times. BG took a 59-55 lead with 8:54 left in the game, when Eagles Coach Ron Murphy called a timeout. Eastern Michigan would settle themselves and score the next six points to tie the game at 61-61.
The Eagles took the lead for good on jumper by Anali Okoloji at 64-63 with 6:49 left. The Eagles were also in the double bonus at that point and untimely turnovers and fouls by the Falcons enabled Eastern Michigan to maintain a small lead that Bowling Green could never overcome.
The Eagles used primarily a zone defense in the game that had three guys chasing on the perimeter, and it seemed to limit touches by Holmes in the second half. Holmes had just two points in the second half and he did not score in the last 18 minutes of the game.
Falcon head coach Chris Jans said Holmes got tired in the second half. "Richuan has not practiced since his injury at Buffalo," said Jans. "He came out in the first half like a warrior but he didn't have much left in the tank in the second half."
Eagles coach Ron Murphy said he was proud of his team's defensive effort. "Even though they scored 67 points and shot a high percentage," said Murphy. "I thought we did a good job on defense tonight."
The Eagles weren't too bad on offense either. Talley and Lee seemed to be able to create a shot for themselves off the dribble whenever they wanted it against the BG guards. And most of the time, they were lay-ups. It was amazing to see BG stay close in this game when the Eagles were shooting mostly lay-ups and the Falcons were taking long jumpers.
Talley said that being aggressive off the dribble drive was their game plan coming in. "Our strategy was to pull Holmes away from the basket and make him defend out on the floor," said Talley. "Once we did that, I saw that the lane was wide open."
Another key in this game was the ability of the Eagles to control the boards. They held a 35-27 advantage in rebounding, including 18 offensive rebounds. Those numbers were not lost on the BG head coach. "Eighteen offensive rebounds and 15 turnovers is a recipe for failure," said Jans.
The Eagles were 24 of 61 from the field in the game (39%) and took 14 more shots than the Falcons. They also shot eight more free throws and outscored BG from the line, 16-11. Lee led the Eagles in scoring with 27 points on 8 of 18 shooting. Talley chipped in with 21 points and five assists. Karrington Ward led the Eagles in rebounding with 10, to go along with his 15 points.
Seniors Richuan Holmes and Jehvon Clarke led the Falcons in scoring with 18 points each. Zach Denny was the only other Falcon in double figures with 13. The Falcons shot a very respectable 25-47 (53%) from the field in this game but just didn't have enough opportunities.
The Eagles (22-12) will move on to play the Toledo Rockets (#4 seed) tomorrow night at 6:30 p.m. at Quicken Loans Arena. The Falcons (20-12) will now have to wait to see if they get into a postseason tournament somewhere.