AKRON, OH Going into their game with the Akron Zips Monday night, Eastern Michigan had lost four of its previous five games. The Eagles also had lost to Akron seven consecutive times and were facing a Zips team that was 10-2 at home. But as a sports sage once said, That is why they play the games
Jay Higgins hit a 3-pointer from the left side with 1:54 remaining to give the Eagles the lead and EMU held off the Zips to post a 62-59 victory before 2,674 stunned fans at Rhodes Arena.
Eastern Michigan (11-10, 3-5 MAC) had four players in double figures, led by Higgins who had a game-high 17 points. Antonio Green came off the bench to score 14, while Justin Dobbins and Carlos Medlock added 12 each as the Eagles picked up their first MAC road win of the season. With the victory, Eastern Michigan is off to its best start since the 2002-03 season, which is when the Eagles last won in Akron.
We wanted to make them play from the outside-in EMU head coach Charles E. Ramsey said after the game. Its huge (the win). Number one, it is on the road. We have been struggling on the road this season. Number two, I had not won against Akron in my tenure here.
The loss was costly for Akron (15-7, 5-3 MAC) as it fell into a second place tie with Miami in the Eastern Division, one game behind Kent State, who routed Northern Illinois at home, 76-46.
They are a good team. They shot the ball early and we never got out of our own way Zips head coach Keith Dambrot said afterward. We just spun in the mud, really, tonight. You have to shoot the ball better than that.
Brett McKnight was the lone Zips player in double figures with 13 points despite hitting just two-of-nine shots from the field.
For the second consecutive game, the Zips failed to convert from the field. Akron came into the contest leading the MAC in field goal percentage at 44.7 percent. The Zips connected on 42.1 percent Saturday night in their 59-45 win over Toledo but struggled against the Eagles. Akron shot just 34.7 percent overall and made 8 of 28 in the second half.
In addition, Akron played without guard Anthony Humpty Hitchens and reserve Alex Sullivan, who were suspended for violating a team rule.
We are going to have to rally ourselves, It will be a great test of our character. Dambrot said. We have been down and out before here, so we will see what happens. I got on them tonight (after the game)
The game started with the Eagles coming out strong. After both teams had a lead in the early going, EMU went on a 7-0 run to take a 14-8 lead at the 13:44 mark on a three from the left corner by Higgins.
The junior from Fayetteville, North Carolina went 4 for 5 from behind the line in the first half, and that would be key as the Eagles leading scorer and rebounder Brandon Bowdry scored just two points in the first 20 minutes.
That is the Jay Higgins we recruited and have been waiting on Ramsey said. It changes the whole dynamics of our team when he is playing well
Akron countered with six unanswered points to tie the game 14-14 on a layup by Jimmy Conyers.
The game would remain tight for the remainder of the half and the Zips took a 32-31 lead into intermission thanks to a 6-2 spurt at the end of the half.
The Eagles felt good going into halftime trailing by just a single point. Ramsey said some of their confidence stemmed from their play in the second half against Miami on Saturday. Down by 18 points early, EMU came back to trail by just one with 8:27 remaining before running out of steam losing to the RedHawks by 10.
The Eagles opened Mondays second half with a 6-2 run to regain the lead 37-34, thanks to three points by Bowdry and a three-pointer by Antonio Green.
Akron regained the lead 38-37 at the 16:26 mark on two Brett McKnight free throws, and Bowdry picked up two quick fouls, forcing him to and had to leave the game with four.
The Eagles remained resilient and scored eight straight points to take their largest lead of the game 45-38 with 13:29 remaining on a layup by Green.
One key in the second half was the play of Justin Dobbins, the senior center had 12 points, all coming in the second half, along with seven rebounds. Ten of those points came in a stretch when Bowdry was on the bench.
He plays with senior poise Ramsey said of Dobbins. He knows how to find the open guy and all the things came together for him tonight
In fact, EMU would add to the lead while Bowdry was on the pines, forging a 49-43 lead prior to Bowdrys return.
Akron used an 8-3 spurt to regain the lead, 55-54, with 4:10 remaining on a pair of Brett McKnight free throws, but when Higgins made 3-ball from the corner, EMU took a lead it would not lose.
The Zips had a chance for the lead but Brett McKnights 3-point attempt from the right arc was woefully short. The Eagles added a driving layup by Medlock with 41.8 seconds remaining to secure their victory.
Every time we got close tonight we had bad discipline Dambrot said. We lacked the discipline to win the game
If there was one positive for the Zips, it was their free throw shooting. Coming into the game, Akron was just 62.5 percent from the line. On Monday night, they were 20 of 27 (74.1 percent).
In addition Akron won the rebound battle, 31-28, with Conyers, one of the top rebounders in the MAC, pulling down six.
Hopefully we can take the momentum (against Akron and Miami) back home Ramsey said.
Akron will complete this three-game home stand Wednesday night against Northern Illinois. Eastern Michigan returns home for two games beginning Thursday night against Kent State.
NOTES: The game was the 35th lifetime meeting between the two schools with Eastern Michigan taking an 18-17 advantage with their first win in the series since February 7, 2005 at the Convocation Center in Ypsilanti 77-54Chris McKnight-AKR scored eight points moving him past the 800-point mark for his careerBrandon Bowdry-EMU failed to score in double digits for the third time in the last four gamesCarlos Medlock-EMU scored in double figures for the 14th time in the last 15 games EMU head coach Charles E. Ramsey picked up his first win against Akron (1-5) and against head coach Keith Dambot, who is 9-2 lifetime against EMU.