A season marked by gutsy but ugly wins, was ended by a gutsy but ugly loss.
Last Wednesday, with 1.8 seconds on the clock Darrell Lampley dropped in a lay-up to secure a 54-53 Eastern Michigan victory over Western Michigan. That victory, and that dramatic lay-up marked two distinctly different points in the 2011-2012 Eagles basketball season. It marked the moment EMU won the MAC West title, their first since the two division split, a fine accomplishment which the entire team and coaching staff should be proud of. But sadly, the winning bucket by Lampley was the final push by this team. After that emotional win, the Eagles were spent.
Last night, a lackluster first half of basketball doomed the Eagles to a hole they could not climb out of. To give Northern Illinois credit, the Huskies (a 4-25 team), managed to counter each punch the Eagles threw at them in the second half. By the time Eastern woke up, it was too late. The Huskies believed they could win.
Darrell Lampley made crucial mistakes, but he did lead the comeback, especially a stretch of four minutes in the second half when he scored seven points, had an assist and a steal. But in the end the load he was asked to carry this season was too much of a burden. Antonio Green, J.R. Sims, and Quintin Dailey combined to shoot 3-11 from the floor. Lamp shot an abysmal 3-12, although he did score six points from the free throw line. The standout performance of the night was from Jamell Harris, who ate up an undersized NIU frontcourt with 13 points and 8 boards. In the end, however, our anemic offense could not get the job done.
The numbers don’t lie. 13% field goal percentage in the first half. 6-23 from behind the arc. Meanwhile, NIU shot 49% from the floor—our usually stellar defense allowed the Huskies just enough room to make one crucial three after another.
But the number that stood out the most to me was 843. This was the attendance for the game last night. A scrappy team that was picked to finish last wins the MAC West, hosts a tournament game, and all we can draw is 843!? People say fans will come back when Eastern starts winning. I wonder if that is true, and if so to what extent? 1,500? Is that a realistic number? Is that a number to be proud of?
I don’t know what the answer is. I love our student section, the students that are there are fantastic. But the most I ever count in the student section is 50. When I was at Eastern, I could walk from my dorm room at Walton Hall to Bowen Field House. I understand students can’t do that now. But something has to be done to get more students to the games.
As for this year’s team and last night’s game, as disappointing as the loss was, I can’t help but have good feelings about the 2011-2012 Eagles. They maximized their potential and then some. The future of the program also looks bright. The question is will anyone be there to see it?