Last year, EMU was 9-21 with one of the 20 worst RPIs in D1 basketball. They were 5-11 in the MAC finishing tied for 10th. That team lost its top scorer and rebounder--its only double figures scorer, in fact. They fired their coach, and brought in a Syracuse assistant who is in the first year of implementing a defensive style and the same 2-3 zone that BG has been trying to use for five years.
And for all that, EMU beat BG last night. EMU is 5-2 in the MAC. You have to give Rob Murphy credit...he took a pretty messy situation and figured out how to win games.
It isn't necessarily pretty. They hold the ball for long periods of time, running down the clock without even attempting to move the ball. But, they play among the most effective defenses in the MAC, and they are winning games. When they say it starts with defense, they can actually back the words up.
Meanwhile, BG's Falcons, who were 14-19 last year and tied for 7th in the MAC, lost only one bench player from that team, and figured to be better this year. BG isn't finding ways to win games, BG is bumping along, matching wins with losses. EMU has found a way to consistently win; BG has not.
Yesterday's game unfolded almost exactly as expected. It was a 61 possession game, which is very slow, and neither team shot the ball very well at all. Which is exactly the way EMU wanted the game played. When you play the way EMU does, you're not going to build up any big leads but you aren't going to fall far behind either. It just changes the psychology of the game....a 5 point lead feels insurmountable.
EMU led most of the second half, much of it in the 5 point range. With 3:39 left, the game was tied at 43 when Jehvon Clarke nailed a 3-pointer. For all the struggles of the night, it was anybody's game.
That didn't last long. EMU came down and nailed a 3 to go back up 3. Oglesby drew a foul on BG's possession and made 1 free throw. And EMU came down and nailed another 3 for a 5 point lead with 2:28 to go. EMU is not a good team shooting the 3, but the Falcons defense wasn't guarding on those possessions, and they made 2 right when they were needed.
So at 49-44 with 2:28, EMU then held BG without scoring until there was :42 left. The Eagles had made one more basket in the meantime for a 7 point lead. Jordan drained a 3, and then with :28 left he was fouled on a 3 and made all 3 FTS to cut the deficit to 3 points. BG fouled Antonio Green with :24 left, and he gave the Falcons a gift, missing both ends of his bonus.
BG was out of time outs and really needed a 3, though you're still in the game even with a 2. Whereas EMU had nailed 3FGs when they needed them, BG could not get open against the Eagle defense and settled for a low-percentage jumper by
Clarke Calhoun that missed.
And that's how a frustrating loss occurs.
Jack Carle asked Coach Orr in the post-game if EMU "imposed its will" on the Falcons. Coach didn't want to go there, preferring to say that his team beat itself.
It is pretty hard to argue with that assessment. BG had 19 turnovers against only 11 for EMU. In a game where you are already struggling to score, 19 completely empty turnovers is deadly. (Keep in mind that 19 turnovers is a lot in a normally paced game. In this game, BG turned the ball over on 31% of its possessions).
And, BG shot only 59% from the line, wasting a night where they had generated 22 free throw attempts. You change those variables, and you can win the game.
EMU held BG to .82 points per possession, which is about the same efficiency BG had against Georgia. It is the lowest in MAC play since the game @Akron in the 09-10 season. Meanwhile, EMU got .9 points per possession, slightly above their season average. As you can see below, BG was equal with EMU on shooting, got some offensive boards, but failed on turnovers. The free throw rate stat, which measures FT attempts against FG attempts is misleading when you miss your free throws.
Individually, Calhoun led the team with 12 points, but that's a victory for EMU, because he was forced to take 16 shots to get those 12 points. He did have 9 rebounds and 4 turnovers. Dee Brown had 10. Scott Thomas scored 7 with 8 rebounds, and Crawford had 8 with 4 assists. Oglesby had 6 points and five turnovers.
And so the beat goes on. Next up is WMU in K-Zoo, where the Broncos are undefeated this season. WMU is right in the mix with the Falcons for seeding, and a road win would really help the Falcons. To deliver on that, they will have to bring something we haven't see too much of. Everything starts somewhere.