Eastern Michigan 48, Northern Illinois 45
We have seen this movie before. One hallmark of the Charles Ramsey era of EMU hoops was the bad loss at home. It seemed to happen at least once every year, losing at the Convo to a team we should have beaten.
Last night’s game versus Northern Illinois started innocuously enough. Our usual anemic offense was propped up by stellar defense play, not the least of which was the imposing interior presence of Da’Shonte Riley. At halftime the score was knotted up at 22-22. I felt confident we would win by a final of something like 51-44. How could we not pull away from these guys, I mean, aside from being decent rebounders NIU had nothing to offer. After watching their two Norwegian players toss up brick after brick, it seemed hopeless that NIU could do anything in the second half.
Then came the surprise. NIU came out on fire and our Eagles were lackluster on both ends of the court. When we were at our lowest, I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that this was bound to happen. Our offense is so inconsistent, that any deficit of more than ten was going to be crippling. Fortunately, Rob Murphy kept them cool and Darrell Lampley got hot.
Down by nine, still reeling from the NIU run and wondering if the dream of a MAC West title was going to die a painful death right before our eyes, Lampley tossed up a rainbow from three point range and got flattened in the process. The ball cascaded softly through the net, Lamp stuck the free throw to complete the four point play, and we were all of the sudden down by five with lots of time left. You could see it on the team’s collective faces at that point. We got this.
Antonio Green hit a late, big three, Matt Balkema coolly drained two free throws and the demons of the past were exercised. It is shocking to me that Rob Murphy stands on the brink of doing in his first year what Charles Ramsey, even with players like Carlos Medlock and Brandon Bowdry, could not do during his entire tenure: Win the MAC West. Murphy has brought us to this point by infusing a new defensive system, and by coaching the team to their strengths. But most of all, he is a calming presence. The only time you see Murphy lose his cool is after a dumb foul. Of course, who can blame him for that?
What is left for us is one last home game, a farewell to a plucky group of seniors, and hopefully a win on Saturday against a reeling but dangerous Ball State team. A win puts us in line for the MAC West title, and a loss leaves it up for grabs with Western, a team we have to face on the road next week. The stakes are high. Is it too much to ask for two thousand fans to show up?