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EMU 41, Toledo 38: an ugly win is still a win

January 21, 2012

And with that, EMU sits alone atop the MAC…for a few hours at least!

29 combined turnovers and both teams shooting less than 33% is most definitely an ugly game. But honestly, I think that’s the way this EMU team likes it, and they’re doing well with it, winning their last three games by an average-per-40-minutes score of 49-46. EMU held the Rockets scoreless for the first five minutes and ran out to a 10-4 lead nine minutes in, before five EMU turnovers let Toledo back into the game with a 10-0 run. In fact, Toledo did all of their first-half scoring during the middle 8 minutes (from 14:37 to 6:38), and a three-pointer by Derek Thompson with 3:42 left was the last score of the half, for a 15-14 halftime. In case you’re wondering, the lowest combined halftime score since the shot clock began in 1986 occurred on January 20, 2010, when North Carolina Central led Savannah State at halftime, 13-5; in that first half the teams combined for 23 turnovers and shot a combined 13%. (Here’s the halftime box score to prove it!) By comparison, the teams today played well, combining for “only” 19 first-half turnovers and shooting a combined 23%.

The second half was still ugly, but better with the shooting soaring to nearly 38%. In the end, once again, the difference was EMU’s ability make clutch three-pointers. Quintin Dailey was the hero of the end-game today, hitting two three-point shots in the final minutes — his only points of the day — to give the Eagles the lead for good.

It’s probably worth taking a few moments to consider EMU’s general game plan, which is not going to change this year. Rob Murphy has said that he doesn’t feel that they have a single go-to player, they’re going to count on different players to step up in each game. He’s also commented that he just doesn’t see this year’s team scoring a lot of points, regardless of who they play. With that said, the strategy is to slow the pace of the game, to limit the total possessions, keep things close, and try to have a chance to make some plays at the end. That’s exactly how the last three games have played out. This team’s identity is in the defense they play, the 2-3 zone (Toledo’s head coach, Tod Kowalczyk, commented that EMU “hasn’t played a second of man-to-man defense all season”, to which Murphy replied that they might have played a minute or two of it in their first few games), and the slow pace. Look again at the score of today’s game. Toledo came to Ypsilanti averaging 74 points per game, and the Eagles nearly held them to half that. That kind of defensive performance may not be a fan favorite, but in the long run it will win an awful lot of games.

I was particularly struck by the performances of three players today. First, Murphy particularly singled out Matt Balkema for praise. In the second half, Balkema came through big with 7 points, 7 rebounds, and two blocked shots. My hunch is that going up against Da’Shonte Riley in practice is forcing Balkema to improve his own play.

Speaking of Riley, he is a defensive game-changer (today he had two defensive rebounds, two blocks, and a steal in 17 minutes), but offensively he seems to struggle under the basket, playing better from about 10-12 feet out. In his post-game comments, Rob Murphy said that because of his limited playing time his first year at Syracuse, his injury (broken foot) last year, and then having to sit out the fall, he thinks of Riley as being at a freshman playing-level. He also noted, somewhat bemusedly, that despite Riley averaging just 5 points per game, opposing teams are double-teaming him relentlessly every time he touches the ball, which has led to him averaging three turnovers a game. My thought is that if opponents are so willing to double-team him, the Eagles should take advantage of that propensity and be ready for him to quickly kick the ball back out to the perimeter, where there should be an open man. We saw a little of that today, as he did have two assists, but I think we should be seeing it a lot more.

Finally, Darrell Lampley still isn’t scoring like he was earlier in the year, but he does seem mostly recovered from his injury a week ago. Today he led EMU scorers with…um…9 points. He did have back-to-back fast-break layups (sparked by defensive rebounds by Green and Balkema) late in the second half that really got the crowd going.

EMU's three transfers sitting out this year: (L-R) Daylen Harrison, Glenn Bryant, Josh Lyle

There’s one last personnel note worth mentioning. Murphy confirmed that Josh Lyle, who graduated from Lahser HS in West Bloomfield, has transferred to EMU from Kentucky State (Division II). In 2010, as a senior, he was rated as the #16 wing in Michigan in his class, and last year he redshirted at Kentucky State. In May, 2010, Scott Burnstein of The Oakland Press had this to say about Lyle:

Lyle didn’t have much time in the limelight these past few years despite putting up some very nice stats, due to his team’s lack of success. But make no mistake, this kid is a baller and with the right coaching, he could easily flourish in the college ranks. In a career that will go down as one of the best ever in Corsairs history, Schaeffer, a two year-captain, led the program to back-to-back conference titles for the first time in over two decades.

I don’t know how much impact Lyle will have next year, but it seems like Murphy may still be partly just looking for bodies for practice and players who might be able to play a minute or two in the case of extreme foul trouble.

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