Eastern Michigan basketball team overcomes slow start, shaky finish to beat Ball State
It’s the picture-perfect scenario for any college basketball coach. You’re coming off a tough two-game conference losing streak, your team is up eight points with just over a minute left against an opponent that’s already in the double-bonus.
What could go wrong?
How about seven missed free throws, a lane violation on another freebie and a turnover leading to a three-point play on the other end? That helped erase the Eastern Michigan men’s basketball team’s lead quickly on Saturday.
But despite their best efforts to pull Ball State back into the game, the Eagles squeaked out of the Convocation Center with a 57-53 win.
“At that point, we’re not playing Ball State. We’re playing the clock,” Eastern Michigan coach Charles Ramsey said. “And we didn’t do a very good job of that. So I ripped them pretty good when we got back to the locker room.”
The final minute was indicative of the game as a whole. The Eagles managed to shoot 9-of-23 from the free-throw line. That’s just 39 percent.
For a team that usually converts free throws at a 68 percent clip, Ramsey said the stat was more of an anomaly than anything. He was more concerned with the team’s slow start, a trend he’s seen in all three of the Eagles’ Mid-American Conference losses.
Eastern Michigan (2-3 MAC, 10-8 overall) staggered to just 16 first-half points and missed on several easy buckets in the early goings.
“Those hurt, because missed layups are very deflating for the offense and very uplifting for the defense,” Ramsey said. “And we were point-blank missing them. You could almost see them sigh and go, ‘Ahh’ ”
The Eagles’ offensive struggles can be traced to Brandon Bowdry. The redshirt junior is the team’s leading scorer and has already racked up 10 double-doubles this season, but he managed just nine points on 4-of-10 shooting against Ball State.
With Bowdry struggling, senior Justin Dobbins stepped up to give Eastern Michigan a post presence. He finished with a game-high 18 points, 16 of which came in the second half to help the Eagles build a solid lead.
But the Cardinals - due in part to Eastern Michigan’s late-game ineptitude - surged back and had a prime opportunity to steal the game. With 11 seconds left and a two-point deficit, Cardinals senior guard Brawley Chisholm advanced the ball to midcourt and promptly lost his grip on the ball.
He dove headfirst into the TCF Bank advertisement in front of the scorer’s table, but couldn’t save the ball from tumbling out of bounds, effectively sealing Eastern Michigan’s sloppy win.
Chisholm’s late-game blunder was the last of the Cardinals’ staggering 22 turnovers.
“That killed us,” Ball State coach Billy Taylor said. “You just can’t have that many turnovers on the road. We had a lot of empty possessions, but I give our guys credit for fighting back. That’s the ups and downs of having a young team.”
Eastern Michigan had some turnover troubles of its own.
Senior point guard Carlos Medlock had four giveaways in the first half, and Ramsey sat him for a few minutes to send a message.
“That’s all up here, it’s all mental,” Ramsey said. “Four turnovers in the first half is not very good. And it’s pretty embarrassing for a senior to have to sit like that.”
Medlock must have gotten the message — he had just one turnover in the final 20 minutes.
After the game, one ambitious Eastern Michigan student yelled down to Ramsey, “Yeah coach, bring home that MAC Championship!” It would be the Eagles’ first since 1997-98.
Currently fourth in the MAC’s West Division, Eastern Michigan has a lot of ground to make up if it wants to fulfill that fans’ wishes.
Andy Reid covers sports for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org