GAME NOTES: One team will rise about the .500 mark as the other falls to a losing record on Saturday when the Eastern Michigan Eagles tangle with the Toledo Rockets in Mid-American Conference action at Savage Arena.
The Rockets snapped a six-game losing streak against EMU last season with a 76-51 victory. Toledo's win gave it a 46-43 edge in the all-time series.
The Eagles are 11-11 on the campaign after completing a 65-46 rout of Buffalo on Wednesday. For the game, EMU went 26-of-55 from the floor (.473) and 2-of-7 from beyond the arc (.286), while the Bulls were limited to make just 41.0 percent of their field goal tries and finish with 11 turnovers to 10 assists. The stifling defensive performance was not the first by EMU this season, as it made national headlines by limiting Northern Illinois to four points in the opening 20 minutes of their 42-25 victory over the Huskies on Jan. 26.
Although EMU is leading the MAC and has one of the lowest allowed scoring averages in the nation at 59.2 ppg, it has failed to rack up victories due to its troubles on the offensive end, where it posts just 57.5 ppg. Coach Rob Murphy's team has lost all nine of its true road games coming into the weekend, although there were a handful of close calls in those losses. Senior guard Derek Thompson is leading the way offensively for EMU, tallying 11.0 points per game. Pacing the Eagles in rebounding is junior center Da'Shonte Riley, who is posting 6.0 boards and 2.3 blocks per game.
Glenn Bryant scored 17 points and rejected four shots to lead the Eagles over the Bulls. Austin Harper chipped in 10 points off the bench while EMU out hustled Buffalo in fast break points, 8-0. The 19-point differential in scoring in the contest was the largest margin in which a Murphy-coached Eastern squad has defeated a MAC team.
EMU will have a tough time halting the rising Rockets. Tod Kowalczyk's squad continued their impressive run on Wednesday with a 65-64 victory over Miami- Ohio, marking its fourth consecutive decision. The win left Toledo in second place in the MAC's West Division, just one game behind Western Michigan. The team has been one of the most efficient at the charity stripe in the nation at 78.8 percent after leading the league last year with a 72.6 mark. The efficiency from the free-throw line has helped the Rockets to the fourth-best scoring offense in the MAC at 68.7 ppg, but they are third to last on the defensive end with an allowed average of 69.5 ppg.
Toledo's winning streak was in serious jeopardy against Miami, as it trailed by two seconds in the closing seconds. Freshman center Nathan Boothe saved the day by hitting a 3-pointer as time expired to lift the Rockets to the win. Sophomore guard Julius Brown paced the Rockets' offensively with 18 points and eight assists. He was joined in double figures by Rian Pearson (16 points) and Boothe (13 points). Toledo played an efficient offensive game, shooting 51.1 percent from the field and committing just 10 turnovers.
Pearson is leading the MAC in scoring with 18.1 ppg and also the team in rebounding with 6.2 rpg. Brown is ninth in the league with 13.9 ppg and third with 5.5 assists per contest. Smith and Dominique Buckley have both been chiming in offensively, producing over nine points per outing apiece.
It will be an interesting clash as the defensive-minded Eagles collide with the offensively potent Rockets. EMU's troubles away from home will continue if Toledo's scoring tandem of Pearson and Brown continue to fill it up with ease.