CMU Opens MAC Play With 62-53 Win Over EMU

Jordan Bitzer

MOUNT PLEASANT - Central Michigan's defensive pressure in the first half set the tone for a 62-53 win over Eastern Michigan in the Mid-American Conference opener in Rose Arena on Sunday.

The Chippewas (6-7, 1-0 Mid-American) held the Eagles to just 17 first-half points on 14 field goal attempts as EMU coughed the ball up 16 times in the first frame.

EMU's Jarred Axon hit a three-pointer to trim CMU's lead down to three, 15-12, with 8:09 left in the opening frame but the Chippewas used a 17-5 run to end the half and take a 32-17 lead into the locker room at the break. Central gave up just one field goal in the final eight minutes of the half, a layup by Nenad Banjanin with 4:49 left.

The Eagles (4-9, 0-1 Mid-American) were able to cut the deficit to nine on multiple occasions in the second half but that's as close as they could get.

"This was a really important game for a lot of reasons," coach Ernie Zeigler said. "It was our first conference home game, and this win was crucial to defend our home court. We have three of our next four on the road.

"The last time we played this well defensively was against Michigan."

Giordan Watson led all scorers with 12 points and he dished out seven assists. Watson was held to just one point in the first half while being credited with five helpers.

"Giordan is finding guys around him to help make plays and put this team in a position to be successful," Ziegler said. "We have nine or 10 guys capable of scoring double figures which allows us to play fresh legs and play the style of defense we want to play."

Jordan Bitzer had a stellar all-around performance with 11 points, five rebounds, five steals, three assists and three three-pointers off the bench. Jeremy Allen also added 11 points for his fifth double-figure game in the last six outings.

Zane Gay led the Eagles with 10 points off the bench.

Eastern Michigan finished with 23 turnovers but the Eagles won the battle of the boards, 36-26. CMU shot .480 from the floor and .316 from three-point range compared to Eastern's marks of .395 from the field and .250 from the arc.

The Eagles entered the game as one of the top three-point shooting teams in the league averaging over eight made treys per game. Jesse Bunkley was leading the MAC with 3.18 made per game while leading scorer Carlos Medlock was 10th with 1.92 per game. Central's defense held the pair to a combined 0-for-10 performance from the arc.

Also chipping in for Central Michigan were Marcus Van, Chris Kellermann and Justin Blevins with seven points apiece while Eddie Spencer had a team-high tying five rebounds while playing some big defense in the second half.

The Chippewas are idle for a week before traveling to Ball State next Sunday, Jan. 13. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m. and the game will air on Comcast Local.

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