No. 23 E. Michigan 62, Akron 53
YPSILANTI, Mich. (AP) _ No matter how long No. 23 Eastern Michigan lasts in the rankings, they know other teams are aiming at them.
The Eagles, the favorites to win the Mid-American Conference, got 15 points from Derrick Dial and pulled away from Akron in the final minutes for a 62-53 win Saturday night.
Akron, which started five freshman, set a school record with its 14th straight loss.
``The coaches keep reminding us `you’re in first place and everybody’s shooting for you,‴ said Dial, a 6-4 sophomore. ``They want to bang you around and bring you down.″
The Eagles’ win Saturday came after an 82-73 loss Wednesday at Ohio University in Eastern Michigan’s first game since earning the school’s first-ever spot in the top 25.
And coach Ben Braun said the attention that comes from the ranking can make things difficult.
``I appreciate the coverage and it’s nice to have all the stories, but it makes coaching tougher,″ Braun said. ``Articles don’t win games for you and rankings don’t win games for you. Effort wins games, and it has not been easy.″
Brian Tolbert added 14 points and center Theron Wilson 10 for the Eagles (16-2, 9-1), who maintained a two-game lead in the league standings.
Forward Ryan Andrick led Akron (3-15, 0-10) with 12 points. Forward Jawanza Moore and guard David Tillis added 10 each for the Zips.
``It’s just mean against boys right now, but I can’t complain,″ first- year Akron coach Dan Hipsher said. ``We got a good effort.″
The Eagles led just 51-49 when Dial was fouled on a 3-point attempt by Akron’s Scott Gooden with just one second remaining on the shot clock.
Dial made two of three free throws, then 5-5 point guard Earl Boykins scored five of his nine points on a drive and two free throws.
Boykins, Eastern Michigan’s second-leading scorer and the MAC’s assist leader, was doubtful for the game because of bruised fingers on his shooting hand sustained at Ohio University.
``Obviously it was bothering him offensively,″ Braun said. ``He couldn’t practice for two days, and it was really a last-minute decision to play him or not.″
Wilson had no doubts Boykins would play.
``Earl is a competitor,″ Wilson said. ``He said `coach, I’m playing.′ I asked him in the (Saturday) shootaround `are you playin?′ and he said, `yeah.′ ″
Dial also made a 3-pointer in the 11-0 run which finally put Eastern Michigan in command.
``Our problem is we don’t have one guy who down the stretch can make the big play for us,″ Hipsher said.
The Zips led 30-28 at halftime and were never out of the game until Eastern Michigan’s closing run.
``It’s a shame the perception of their team’s going to be based on their record, but they’ve been in a lot of games,″ Braun said. ``I said this was not going to be an easy game for us to bounce back (from the Ohio loss).″