How much could change in two and a half weeks? Well, a lot. It seemed like the 15-point loss at Kent State was a huge low-point as the Golden Flashes got up to 6-1 and Eastern Michigan fell to 2-5 conference records, but EMU was able to play another complete 40-minute basketball game, keeping their composure when things went south in certain areas, and still ran away with a much-needed 75-70 win.
Getting points in the paint would have to serve as a huge reason for EMU (13-12, 5-7) to get the win. They lost in that category when they met up in Kent two and a half weeks ago (32-22), and Khaliq Spicer's five blocks certainly helped Kent State (16-9, 7-5) grab that 15-point win. Some sloppy play to open up, Brandon Nazione travels on the first possession, Willie Mangum saw a huge opening to drive but missed an easy one, then James Thompson blocked once by Spicer, missed a layup as he was fouled then missed the next two free throws.
But they'd turn things around quickly for a moment as Thompson would get a pair of big dunks, Nazione with one of his own, Tim Bond has a floater in traffic and EMU's 6-point deficit turns into a 14-12 lead. Thompson would keep doing Thompson things, got his 10th point 12 minutes into the game as the Eagles grabbed a 20-14 lead.
HALF: EMU leads Kent State 31-23. Thompson 15 & 9, Flashes with 12 turnovers.— Hustle Belt (@HustleBelt) February 13, 2016
Something about referees in Ypsilanti doing a poor job just makes all too much sense these days. As the shot clock was winding down under the 17-minute mark in the second half, Bond fed Thompson an alley-oop dunk that counted. Flashes forward Jimmy Hall kept complaining, "That's a violation, ref" as he was getting down the court to play defense. He wasn't wrong. Replays show that Thompson's dunk was just a fraction of a second late, and actually shouldn't have counted. It eventually didn't.
Kent State's next possession provided a stereotypical showing of Mid-American Conference officials. Khaliq Spicer hit the layup as he was able to draw a second foul by Thompson. While he was shooting, the horn sounded off twice, and everybody noticed that the shot clock never even ticked.
"The shot clock never started," Rob Murphy said, "so they looked back to see that play," referring to Thompson's late dunk as he shrugged his shoulders. "I have no idea why, but if you lose this game, we're looking at this and saying 'man, if we could've just not got that call against us, and why did they do it?' but we'll move on. It's okay."
Flashes continued to claw away at the EMU lead. Thompson had three fouls in the second half for the Flashes to get easy scores on, as did Bond and Nazione. A Kellon Thomas 3-pointer midway through the second half gave Kent State a 49-48 lead. It seemed like he'd have a key performance to give the Flashes a different outcome, but he would miss all four of his next shots from deep, finishing 12 points, 2-for-8 in 3-point shots.
Eastern Michigan has struggled early, still capable of turning the corner
Even saying that this squad will go make it to the semifinals of the MAC Tournament isn't all that unrealistic.
"I don't know if you've noticed, but now in a game when things get tight, we huddle up and tell each other that we're good and we'll be alright," Bond said. "We try to keep everybody's composure straight, don't get down on ourselves, and follow the game plan in a tight game."
Every basket made or missed in a game, like this, decided by five points, is crucial. Bond's scoring came from his typical one-handed floaters in traffic, including a spin move with a short-range jumper as he waited for clock to wind down before driving to the lane, lifting EMU to a 10-point lead with just under a minute to go.
"I'll do anything that the coach tells me to do to win the game, whether it's getting rebounds or getting the other team from getting offensive boards; whatever it takes, that's just what I try to do."
His eighth game this season finishing with a double-digit score, Bond went 5-for-9 from the field to get to 14 total points, grabbing three offensive rebounds.
Getting those points in the paint paid off for EMU. The Eagles only had one 3-point make from Bond, shot an under-average 62.5 percent from the free throw line (aside from Ty Toney and Raven Lee), but 46 points in the paint (Kent State- 36) and only 15 on the fast break.
"We challenged our big guys to be aggressive and physical," Murphy said. "We don't want [Thompson] to get every rebound, but we needed him to get every rebound... We challenged Brandon, we challenged Tim, we challenged our guards, and if we met their physicality, we'd be in great shape to win and that's what happened." Murphy included that Hall and Spicer had poor efforts in the first half, shooting a combined 0-for-6 and out-rebounded by Thompson and Nazione 13 to 6, which was something that they wanted to use to their advantage as they were getting ready for the second half.
Hall (7) and Spicer (9) both had less rebounds combined than Thompson did for the entire game (18), who ended up getting his 16th double-double of the year. "We're fortunate that he's here and he hasn't even scratched the surface at how good he can be," Murphy continued. While he had a bad day from the free throw line (4-for-10), he was still as dominant on both ends of the floor as he always is. HIs 18 boards are split, nine on offense, nine on defense. He hadn't committed a foul in three halves until the second today, where he had four. Still, 20 points shooting 8-for-12 from the field was a big boost for EMU's scoring in the paint.
Again, how much can change in two and a half weeks? Well, since their first game against each other, Kent State has gone 1-4 while EMU has won three out of five. So, a lot.
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