It certainly isn't the way you want to open your college basketball season, losing your star player to an indefinite suspension for a violation of team rules. But such was the state that Eastern Michigan found itself in with Raven Lee, a preseason all-MAC selection.
The loss of Lee didn't keep the Eagles from taking flight though, as they outscored Vermont 43-20 in the second half on their way to a 70-50 win to open the year.
It won't show on the stat sheet, but a good amount of credit for the win should go to freshman center James Thompson. With just under 15 minutes to play in the first half, and the Eagles up 11-3 in what looked to turning into a route, Thompson picked up his second foul. It sent the freshman to the bench, a casualty of the new rules that looked to open up play on the court.
The loss of Thompson opened up the court for Vermont, who were able to rotate the ball much better against the Eastern Michigan zone without Thompson in the middle. The Catamounts clawed back to tie the game at 25, and took a 30-27 lead into halftime.
But Thompson's return the floor in the second half changed all of that back in Eastern Michigan's favor. His presence helped the defense clamp down again, and he walked away with 11 rebounds and three blocks for the Eagles. With him in the middle, it made it easier for guards Tim Bond (replacing Lee in the starting lineup) and Willie Mangum to find the hoop. Mangum led Eastern Michigan with 18 points, and Bond tied a career high with 15 points.
For Vermont, Kurt Steidel had 11 points (4-13, 3-9 3PT) and 12 rebounds, and Ernie Duncan added 14 points on 4-for-10 shooting from three off the bench. The Catamounts certainly had difficulty against the Eastern Michigan zone as they are not a team used to having to live from behind the arc. Vermont was shoved into taking half of its shots from 3-point range, and it turned into a dismal shooting performance.
It won't be any easier for the Catamounts in the next game, when they take on nationally ranked Purdue. Eastern Michigan will face off against a much better shooting team in Oakland in their next game Wednesday.