MOUNT PLEASANT - With their backs against the wall, the Central Michigan men's basketball team prevailed 66-60 in a flat out slugfest against rival Eastern Michigan, and in doing so they won their second consecutive game and kept their quest for a third straight MAC West title alive.
"We have these signs up, each night we're fighting for our lives," added head coach Ernie Zeigler. "That's our mantra right now, we're fighting for our lives. And that's why we always talk about those twelve close losses, we wouldn't be in this position if we had just been able to close out and have a sense of poise, but that's not the case. Now it's just how do we respond, and it's a testament to our guys that we're playing with that sense of purpose and passion. Hopefully now we can go get a road win here in 2011."
Freshman Trey Zeigler came into the game averaging 16.7 points per game, good enough for fourth in the MAC, and he would add to his average in possibly his best game as a Chippewa. The 6-foot-5 Mount Pleasant (Mich.) native would score 24 points on 11-14 shooting, and also pitch in with 3 rebounds and 3 assists. In a developing trend, he also hit numerous clutch shots down the stretch, and he had some choice words for the Eagles bench after he closed out the physical contest.
"I would just say it got real personal down the stretch, they had said some things the last game and they were talking during this game. It was back and forth, and I just felt I had to let them know" said Trey with a smile.
Sophomore John Morris would score a career high 11 points and dish out 4 assists as he continues to adjust to a starting role. Senior Antonio Weary would tie a career high with 10 points, and freshman guard Derek Jackson would continue his impressive play by scoring 11 points, grabbing 7 rebounds, and tallying 4 assists. In Zeigler, Morris, Weary and Jackson, CMU would receive 56 of their 66 points, and they helped ease the load off senior forward Jalin Thomas who had an off night with only 5 points on 2-9 shooting.
Central Michigan held a 26-21 lead at halftime and they held Eastern Michigan to just 34.5% shooting from the game, including 4-14 (26%) from three point land. After a 41-38 loss to the Eagles earlier this year, the Chippewas were able to ramp up their offense, and in particular they were able to get up and down the court, as evidenced by their 18 fast break points.
"We've been talking about it since the preseason, and it's a shame that it takes us until the last third of the season to start seeing it, but that's exactly what we want to do," added Ernie Zeigler on his team's transition offense. "You have to give [John] Morris a lot of credit, he's understanding that if they outlet it to me, I'm going to push it up the floor. And the ball gets up the floor and then if it comes back he can make a play. That's how [Antonio] Weary was able to get going, because we're getting the ball up the floor and getting it to guys who are slashers and can get to the basket. So it's good to see and hopefully something we can sustain."
Derek Thompson would lead Eastern Michigan in the scoring column with 14 points, while guard Darrell Lampley added 12 off the bench. 6-foot-6 forward Brandon Bowdry, the MAC' second leading scorer (20.1) and top rebounder (9.6), would struggle for the second time against CMU as he scored just 13 points on 6-15 shooting, and only grabbed 4 rebounds. Bowdry would also commit 4 turnovers and foul out with 1:14 left in the game and EMU down just 59-56.
Central Michigan will next travel to New York to take on Niagra University in their annual Bracket Buster game. While it is in the middle of the MAC conference schedule, the game at Niagra offers an additional chance for a young Chippewas team to gain some experience on the road, and more importantly put another W in the win column.
"I think for us, because we're so young, it's an opportunity," added Zeigler. "It's another opportunity, and that's what we've talked about. Not only in how we're going to finish this season, but you're starting to see our young guys mature. You're looking at that young nucleus of guys who have eligibility returning, and it's just another opportunity for them to have the preparation to try and win the next game."