Redshirt freshman guard Ray Lee shook off a slow start and scored a career-high 21, including a three-point make over Robert Morris University freshman forward Jeremiah Worthem to end the first half.
“I feel like we got over the hump because we’ve never played against a team that got into us man-to-man this season,” Lee said. “We started out rough, but I felt like we started getting it rolling and I felt like we would be (okay) in the second half.”
Lee also went 7-of-16 from the field as the Eagles move to 3-0 on the season defeating Robert Morris 69-64.
Junior forward Karrington Ward recorded his first career double-double with 18 points on 3-of-7 from the field to go along with 12 rebounds in 33 minutes.
On the heels of senior center Da’Shonte Riley’s foul problems, sophomore forward/center Lekan Ajayi stepped up off the bench with 10 rebounds and two blocks in 22 minutes.
“To get 10 rebounds off the bench from Lekan when Da’Shonte didn’t play was a luxury going into the game,” EMU head coach Rob Murphy said. “It’s good to know we can get that production coming off the bench and (Lekan) may get the bulk of the minutes on some nights.”
Redshirt senior forward Glenn Bryant chipped in off the bench with 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting to go along with six rebounds and four blocks.
For Robert Morris (2-1), junior guard/forward Lucky Jones led the team in scoring with 18 on 4-of-6 shooting and finished two rebounds shy of a double-double.
After being held scoreless in the first half, senior guard Karvel Anderson produced 13 points on 5-of-14 shooting.
Lee put EMU on the board with a free-throw split at 3-1.
The Colonials capitalized on the Eagles’ early turnovers as its lead expanded to 23-12.
Redshirt junior guard Mike Talley began EMU’s surge with a lay-up and fouled simultaneously leading to a free throw in which he made to cut the deficit to eight.
The Eagles continued to cut into the RMU’s lead until Lee’s crossover and scoop tied the game at 29.
Lee then closed the first half with a three-point make over Worthem to give the Eagles its first lead of the game at 32-29.
The second half began with back-to-back buckets from Lee to increase the lead to seven.
Both teams exchanged baskets until Riley fouled out with 5:53 left in regulation. Not long after Ajayi was re-inserted into the game due to Riley’s five fouls, Bryant made back-to-back baskets to put the Eagles up 55-46 and showed plenty of emotion on the court.
After Lee went one of two on free throws to put EMU up 63-55, Anderson responded with a three-point make to put the Colonials within five.
Both teams alternated baskets until the Eagles had an easy opportunity to clinch the game on Bryant’s two free throw attempts.
Bryant missed both free throws and RMU got the rebound and after a quick pass from the guard, Jones nailed an open three from the baseline to make it 66-64 with 25 seconds left in regulation.
Ward made three out of his last four free throws to go up 69-64 and one last three by Robert Morris rimmed out and the Eagles escaped with the win.
“We let (Robert Morris) get loose late, which was tough and we were fortunate that time ran out and we escaped,” Murphy said.
The attendance at the game was 793.
The Eagles won its first game of the season against a Division I opponent.
As a team, EMU recorded 13 blocks.
“We have really good interior guys,” Murphy said. “It starts with our centers (who) are responsible for locking down the paint. We (also) have length down there, so I expect shots to be blocked and if nothing else altered.”
The Eagles play the Cleveland State University Vikings at the Convocation Center on Nov. 18.
Cleveland State is off to a 1-1 start on the season.
Game time starts at 7 p.m. and can be heard on WEMU 89.1 FM.
Follow Eugene Evans on Twitter @GenoSportsguy.