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Posted on Mon, Dec 3, 2012 : noon

Rob Murphy, Da'Shonte Riley return to Carrier Dome as EMU basketball takes on No. 6 Syracuse

By Pete Cunningham

When Eastern Michigan men’s basketball coach Rob Murphy made his first trip back to the Carrier Dome last year, it was an emotional experience. One that even brought tears to his eyes.

Returning to the place where he spent seven years as an assistant under legendary coach Jim Boeheim wasn’t the only reason Murphy had the urge to cry that night as Eastern lost 84-48 to the Orange.

Though Murphy knows his going back to the place he was groomed to be a college head coach will always be more than just a game for him, he’s trying to keep his team to a "business as usual" approach when Eastern attempts to snap No. 6 Syracuse’s nation’s-best 25-game home winning streak on Monday (ESPNU, 7 p.m.).


Eastern Michigan head coach Rob Murphy, left, was an assistant at Syracuse for seven years. The Eagles take on No. 6 Syracuse on Monday. file photo

“I look forward to going back and seeing my friends and coaching staff and players I helped recruit, but we’re just preparing for it like a regular game and trying to win the game,” Murphy said. “Going back there means a lot. It’s the place that helped me get to where I am today and prepare to be a head coach and be successful at this level of coaching.

“I can never thank coach Boeheim enough for the opportunity. It’ll be good to go back and see a lot of friends and fans in the community.”

Monday night will not only be a homecoming for Murphy, but for the Eagles' seven-foot junior center Da’Shonte Riley, who spent two years at Syracuse before transferring to Eastern before last year.

Though Riley, a Detroit native, was granted a transfer waiver by the NCAA last year due to family hardship, he had not yet been declared eligible when the Eastern (5-1) made the trip to Syracuse. Riley said it was never easy watching the games he was forced to sit out, but that one was especially tough.

“Whenever you feel you can help your team win, it’s not easy…it was tough seeing that,” said Riley.

Though Riley said it was a touching feeling to see how emotional a return to the Carrier Dome was for coach Murphy, he’s hoping to keep his emotions in check on Monday.

He’ll have to do so while facing one of his best friends and the Orange’s leading scorer so far this year, James Southerland. Southerland and Riley were roommates the two years Riley was at Syracuse (5-0) and still communicate about every other day.

But that’s changed over the past two weeks, Riley said. Though neither Southerland or Riley specifically called for a shutdown of communication while the teams prepared to face each other, he said neither needed to.

“It was like an unspoken thing,” Riley said. “Just as basketball players we know when you’re trying to compete you’re not trying to be best friends.”

Murphy knows Riley is looking forward to the game, but thinks his leading rebounder is ready to treat it like it’s just another game.

“I’m sure he’ll be excited to go back there and see his former teammates and play against them," Murphy said. "But once the game starts and jumpball comes, it just becomes another game."

Top tier opponents

At 5-1, Eastern is off to its best start since the 2004-05 season, but a soft nonconference schedule - Madonna and Rochester College are two of the wins - has certainly helped.

The nonconference slate takes a drastic spike in level of difficulty starting on Monday against Syracuse. That trend will continue in the coming weeks with two more top ten opponents in Kentucky (8) and Michigan (3) along with Purdue, Oakland and UMass remaining on the nonconference schedule. Eastern hosts Purdue at the Convocation Center on Saturday (2 p.m., ESPN3)

Murphy said facing top programs is how smaller programs like Eastern can ever hope to land top recruits.

“Here in the state of Michigan, everyone’s dream is to go to Michigan or Michigan State. If you want to get that level of player, what we have to do is show those guys 'if you don’t go to that level, you’ll play against those level of opponents,'” Murphy said.

Murphy believes facing those opponents pays dividends with the current team as well,

“No matter what the outcome is - obviously we’re preparing to win each and every game on our schedule - but if you can compete against Syracuse, Purdue, Kentucky, Michigan, going into conference - and that’s no slight on the conference (play) - you should be in position to be well prepared to compete against the in-conference teams.”

Pete Cunningham covers sports for He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @petcunningham.