Wolverines' bench helps to edge Eagles, 55-43

By Glenn Miller Jr., Daily Sports Writer
Published December 11, 2012

YPSILANTI — Coming off last Wednesday’s journey to Peoria, Ill., the Michigan women’s basketball team found itself on the road again to face Eastern Michigan. Yet the Wolverines didn’t have to travel far Tuesday night, taking a short drive down Washtenaw Avenue to defeat the Eagles, 55-43.

Though Eastern Michigan (1-8) failed to gain a lead at any point during the game, Michigan (8-2) conceded 19 turnovers on the night and gave the Eagles several opportunities to take advantage. A sloppy first half from the Wolverines resulted in a majority of Eastern Michigan’s points coming off turnovers, though Michigan’s defense was able to hold its opponent to 26.5 percent shooting in the second half.

“It wasn’t the prettiest at times, but it was nice to be able to have our two stars — (senior guard) Jenny Ryan and (senior forward) Rachel Sheffer — have an off night and our kids step up and be able to grind one out,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico.

Senior guard Kate Thompson led the Wolverines with 17 points, hitting five shots from behind the arc. For the second consecutive game, senior forward Sam Arnold eclipsed two personal records, including a season-high 11 points and 24 minutes on the court. Junior forward Nya Jordan, who started her fourth straight game, nearly completed a double-double with 10 points and nine rebounds. Though Ryan was held scoreless, the bench filled in admirably to help supply the team’s offensive production.

“When we don’t have a lot of depth, I knew I would have to step up and provide a little bit more than I was already doing,” Arnold said. “I’ve always come off the bench and tried to give my best minutes when I’m out there.”

While the Eagles’ record may not be indicative of their talent, Michigan has struggled in the past for what may be considered “The Battle for Washtenaw County.” The Wolverines’ first win ever at the Convocation Center also snapped a three-game losing streak against Eastern Michigan. Tuesday’s victory also marked a milestone for Barnes Arico, who completed the best start through 10 games for a first-year Michigan coach since Sue Guevara in the 1996-97 season.

“I know we always have a traditionally tough time playing here in the past, so I was really happy for the upperclassmen, because I don’t think they’ve won here yet,” Barnes Arico said. “I was really happy that we were able to get that win. I knew they’d be a tough opponent.”

A slow start from both teams kept the game reasonably close through the first eight minutes of play. The Wolverines were able to break the game open after going on an 18-4 run midway through the first half, highlighted by 3-pointers from Thompson and Arnold. The Eagles’ full-court pressure took advantage of Michigan’s inexperienced backcourt and helped Eastern Michigan claw back to within eight points going into halftime.

The Wolverines came out firing after the break, executing a 9-4 run to open up the second half. The Eagles had no response for Michigan’s sharp-shooters, allowing 3-pointers from Jordan and Thompson to open up an 18-point lead. To seal the game, Sheffer converted a three-point play with more than a minute remaining.

Despite allowing Eastern Michigan to score 30 points in the paint, the Wolverines bested the Eagles with a season-high 20 assists. Though Michigan’s starters struggled to find their rhythm, the team set a season-high 18 points off the bench — an encouraging sign for the injury-plagued team that has suffered from a lack of depth.