The 8-seed Eastern Michigan Eagles is headed to Cleveland. Beating the Toledo Rockets for the third time this season 69-60, EMU advances onto the quarterfinals round to play against Akron on Thursday at noon.
"It's about as big of a win as we've had," Rob Murphy said after the game, feeling relieved after this Eagles came out with a 9-point win against Toledo. "I thought for the most part, our synergy on defense was pretty good and it allowed us to get this victory.
The Eagles went off on a 11-0 run using loose ball turnovers and steals to their advantage. Clogging up passing lanes with deflections with transition buckets with Raven Lee's dunk and quick 3-pointer helped the Eagles get to a 16-5 lead before Toledo got themselves their first points since a six-and-a-half-minute scoring drought.
Normally teams would get it together and limit the mistakes and make it a tighter game, but that just wasn't the case in the first half for the Rockets. They'd commit 11 turnovers in the first half, where EMU would take advantage of and get 14 points off them. James Thompson had a pair of blocks with some help to limit Nathan Boothe, Zach Garber and Nate Navigato from making a difference down low as EMU beat them in point in the paint 14-8 at halftime. The Eagles would go to the locker room up 36-20 after getting up to a 20-point lead just moments before.
Stuckey Mosely would hit six quick points for the Rockets to begin the second half, and Boothe would show his range with the long twos to try to cut down on the Eagles lead, but it'd remain a steady 10-12 point game with Lee playing with his typical flashy style and Thompson continually fighting for the close baskets.
Stopping Boothe was one of the highlights in EMU's game plan coming into the game. An All-MAC player that's put up 42 total points on the Eagles in the previous two match-ups, has given James Thompson some troubles, but if they would limit his touches and let Thompson play his defense, Murphy knew they'd be in good position to win. "He got [Boothe] to miss some shots in the first half, and in the second half, that he usually makes. And if he makes those, the outcome is probably different."
The Rockets would find themselves controlling the pace, and eventually in a 4-point game with about six minutes left. Butting heads all night, Thompson and Boothe would both receive technicals, which is when the crowd at the Convocation Center really got into it.
"The atmosphere in here was crazy tonight," Tim Bond said afterwards. "I wish it was like that all the time."
Tim Bond runs over to the student section before getting out of the timeout to hype up the student section. Under a minute to go, up by 5— Alex Alvarado (@ARAlvarado13) March 8, 2016
Later, for the first time since they went up 1-0 in the very beginning of the game, Toledo would grab a 57-55 lead with Sanford's transition layup, but EMU would quickly take that back within 50 seconds with a pair of transition layups from Bond and another by Lee. Free throws from Bond, Nazione and Lee would help EMU go on an 14-5 run to finish off the final two minutes of the game, sealing their 69-60 victory.
Lee would lead the EMU scoring charge with 19 points off the bench while Bond put up 15. The two both helped out huge on defense with nine combined steals (team 17). Thompson and Boothe both had double-double performances for their squads -- Thompson with 11 points, 12 rebounds, Boothe 16 points and 10 boards.
Jonathan Williams had 43 points in the previous two meet-ups, but tonight he turned the ball over seven times and shot 25 percent from the floor for 11 points.
Collectively, Toledo would turn the ball over 19 times for EMU to pick up 24 points off of, which is how EMU likes to create offense.
EMU will go on to face Akron in the quarterfinals on Thursday at noon, who they lost to at Akron in a 4-point contest. A lot has changed for both teams in terms of game experience and chemistry. Murphy knows what he's getting himself into with Keith Dambrot on the other side, who has led his Zips to the semifinals every year since 2006, but Bond doesn't really remember much from the game that they had in January. "I've got short term memory. I just know that we lost and we owe them one, which means we've gotta get back in the lab and do whatever we've gotta do to end up with a win."