A National Basketball Association legend, George Gervin looked on as the Eastern Michigan men’s basketball team came from behind in the second half to defeat the Panthers of Eastern Illinois 60-52 Friday night. The inaugural “Ice Man” Classic Tournament began by retiring EMU’s legendary Iceman’s No. 24.
“It was a tough game, Today was an ugly win.” coach Rob Murphy said. “It was a tough win but I would much rather be on the winning side of a tough win.”
Eagles (2-1) started the game quickly with an opening three from now starting senior guard Derek Thompson. Thompson was beginning the year as the Eagles’ sixth Man but made the starting lineup after the loss on the road to Jacksonville State. Thompson drained five threes on the night, leading the team with 22 points on the night.
Redshirt junior forward Daylen Harrison was superb on the game with 18 points and clutch performance going 11 of 11 from the free throw line and kept the team in the game early in the first half as they struggled.
The Eagles shot 28.6 percent in the first half and were down going into the half 26-23. Offense has been the biggest struggle so far early on in the season. Even EMU President Susan Martin was worried with the lack of scoring in the first quarter.
“We’ve got to start getting that ball in the basket.” Martin said, “We are playing great defense and getting down the court well but we have to start scoring soon.”
In the second half the Eagles were able to retake the lead at the 15 minute mark with a three from Thompson putting them up 35-33. But after retaking the lead, the Panthers were able to go on a 10 point scoring run with forward Josh Piper hitting big threes.
The Eagles fought back with a three from red shirt junior point guard Austin Harper who appeared late in the game. Both freshman guards, Jalen Ross and Ray Lee struggled in the game with only two points between them which led to Murphy making a change late in the second half.
“I told Austin, walking out of the locker room, to be ready, that we were going to need him in the second half,” Murphy said. “He gave us that boost off the bench that we needed tonight. Jalen doesn’t have great size but he has a great head game and Ray is a super athlete who needs to learn the game. I am going to stick with those guys.”
The true strength of the Eagles’ play came from their lock down zone defense, finishing the game with 10 blocks. Four blocks coming from senior forward Jamel Harris and junior center Da’Shonte Riley was a beast in the paint, finishing with three blocks and seven rebounds, four of which were in the final minutes of the game. Riley was in foul trouble early with four fouls but came into the game after senior center Matt Balkema picked up a technical foul.
“That last four minutes of the game was huge for Riley, every rebound he went and got a rebound where no one else could get it using his ability and size,” Murphy said. “I told Da’Shonte, don’t worry about fouling out. Sometimes you don’t play as aggressive, so I told him to just play and not to hold back.”
The Eagles were able to pick up a much needed win after a road loss and troubling news of junior forward James Still being demised from the team for pleading no contest to a felony assault charge in Rhode Island. The team looks to continue its positive momentum with another win Saturday night in game two of the Iceman Classic against IPFW.