Eastern Michigan 62, Arkansas-Little Rock 51
Ron English would have been proud. Spurred on by an active defense and physical play, Eastern Michigan was able to force twenty-one turnovers and keep visiting Arkansas-Little Rock in check until the offense woke up late in the second half. Senior point guard Darrell Lampley again provided the spark, going on a personal 6-0 run and getting a key assist to Derek Thompson to help the Eagles pull away from the Trojans.
Of course, Ron English also likes physical play, and EMU head coach Rob Murphy tried to engage his interior offense early by getting the ball to junior center Matt Balkema. “Our first three plays were to go to Matt…Matt is 6-10, 280. So most nights he’ll have the advantage,” Murphy explained after the game. Unfortunately, Balkema’s size does not translate into a back to the basket game. Murphy suspected as much when he claimed, “Let him [Balkema] use his physical ability to…muscle a few baskets in.” At least for this season, finding consistent offensive production from our big men is going to be a long, hard slog.
Never fear, because the Eagles have a QB in Darrell Lampley who seems up to the challenge. Lampley can be prone to mistakes at times, most notably a bad 5-second call late in the game, something Murphy called “an unforced turnover” and said, “He [Lampley] should never make that play, not a senior division one player.” But with a final tally of 21 points, Lampley overcame his mistakes to provide effective leadership and timely buckets—most notably a stretch that lasted from 5:50 left in the second half to the 2:45 mark. After Lampley was finished with his run, a 41-40 deficit had turned into a 48-41 advantage for the Eagles.
Once the lead was established, an unlikely hero in Jamell Harris assumed the victory formation and iced the game by going 6 of 8 from the free throw line in the final minutes. Considering Harris’s past difficulties from the line, and quite frankly similar past difficulties from the likes of Brandon Bowdry and Justin Dobbins, it was quite refreshing to see a big man show some clutch free throw shooting to finish a game.
Senior guard Antonio Green also deserves a special mention, as he has assumed a leadership role on the team, and put forth an intense effort on the defensive end of the floor. He was quite disruptive, had a hand in more than one big defensive stop, and was always ready to pounce on a loose ball. From a fan’s perspective it is heartening to see that kind of effort. Murphy agreed, saying Green “did a great job on defense.” He was clearly proud of the effort.
I think Ron English would have been as well. A nice home victory for the Eagles, and it is a good thing. Tom Izzo brings his crew to the Convo next weekend, and it might take the basketball equivalent of a “Little Giants” play to keep up with the Spartans.