Eastern Michigan, on the back of Glenn Bryant's slow but unstoppable second half offense, will advance to face the Buffalo Bulls in Thursday's MAC Quarterfinal matchup in Cleveland, OH.
What was expected to be a defensive battle instead saw the improving NIU offense open the game with a picture-perfect zone buster: EMU 7-footer Dashonte Riley racked up two quick fouls, and then the Huskies opened it up from long range to stretch the Eagles' zone out.
The early going was not all that notable, other than how many points the teams were putting up. NIU entered the bonus with a 32-23 lead on the strength of 5-10 shooting from beyond the arc up until that point.
The Huskies would finish the half strong, holding the ball for much of the last minute thanks to an offensive rebound. Closing on an 11-2 run, Northern Illinois outrebounded their opponent 17-13 in the first half. Despite the top defense by opponents' shooting percentage in the MAC, EMU was gashed by Northern to the tune of 48% shooting and, with Riley sitting much of the half, 12 points in the paint.
The second half saw the return of Dashonte Riley and the swing of all momentum to EMU, who closed the gap to 36-31 in pretty short order thanks to the basketball stylings of Glenn Bryant.
Despite Dashonte Riley picking up his third foul with 15 to play, and being disqualified with over 10 to go, NIU opened up the half shooting just 1-13 and never found their groove, finishing just 3-21 after the break. That's 14%.
Meanwhile, EMU did *just* enough thanks to Glenn Bryant who finished with 12 points that felt more like 20 in the slow-moving second half.
EMU advances to take on the Bulls tomorrow. Tip off is a half hour after the conclusion of Akron-Ohio. If you haven't gotten to Cleveland yet, it looks like most counties are calling off the travel advisories in the early hours of this morning, so hopefully it won't be horrible driving down to the Q.
The two teams met just once this season, a 76-66 UB win that came well before Buffalo started to hit their stride in the second half of conference play. Jarryn Skeete scored nine points in the final six minutes to open up a UB lead in a game that had been tight throughout. Javon McCrea had a typical Kraken day in the office with 10 points, 11 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 3 steals, while Jarod Oldham was able to pick apart the zone to lead all players with seven assists.
On one hand, I'm a little concerned about how close this last game was deep into the second half, but on the other I remember how far the UB offense has come since the first five games of MAC play. I'm hoping UB can come out hot and fast against an Eagles team on their third game in four nights and really test the limits of EMU's endurance.
Players to watch:
The Eagles sport a big three front line in Center Dashonte Riley and Forwards Karrington Ward and Glenn Bryant. Their size may necessitate a extra bit of oomph from Will Regan, more minutes than normal lately from Xavier Ford, or maybe putting Moss and McCrea on the floor at the same time.
Interestingly, Bryant in the second half was the only truly notable performer in tonight's game for EMU. Ward did carry the Eagles early on his way to 13 points, but scored 8 of those from the line and shot just 2-10 from the floor. Riley was his usual defensive presence when he was in the game, but managed no points, four boards, and two blocks while fouling out in just 12 or so minutes of game time.
Once again, tipoff is half an hour after the conclusion of Akron-Ohio. Go Bulls!