The Eastern Michigan University men’s basketball team put on a strong showing in its only exhibition game of the year, with a 101-38 rout of Marygrove College on Monday.
The team is setting its sights on the start of the regular season Friday afternoon against Albion College at the Convocation Center.
EMU is 31-15 all-time against the Britons, but third-year coach Rob Murphy said that won’t make any difference at 2:30 p.m. when the game starts.
“It won’t have any affect at all,” Murphy said. “Obviously we’ve been working hard throughout the off-season and for the season opener, we just want to make sure we continue to improve in all areas of our game, whether it be defensively or offensively, and pretty much worry about us and how we’re improving and not our opponent.”
Friday’s game, according to Albion’s athletics website, will count as an exhibition game for the Britons, while for the Eagles, it will be a normal game.
Redshirt senior center Da’shonte Riley said he and the team will be playing hard on Friday.
“We don’t take any game lightly,” Riley said. “We want to come in and work hard and do what we did against Marygrove.”
Riley came with Murphy to EMU from Syracuse University three years ago.
“The main thing [we] talked about when we came here was that we want to change the culture,” Riley said. “I think this year we have the players and have finally put the work in to do that.”
Murphy said this should be the year everything takes form.
“It’s an exciting time for EMU basketball,” Murphy said. “Any time you’re going into year three as a head coach, that’s when you start turning the corner. The first two years are when you’re laying the foundation, you’re changing the culture and you’re putting in your system. You’re getting all your recruits in and the people you believe in can help you turn the program. I think at this stage, we have all the pieces in place, everybody understands the system and everybody’s excited. I think you’ll see an exciting brand of basketball.”
Murphy said the Albion team will be most dangerous from the three-point line.
“I think Albion is a good team that has some young guys that are back – some really good guards, so it’ll be a challenge for us to guard the three-point line against them, but more importantly we’re worried about us and our improvement,” Murphy added.
To counter that, he said his team needs to be strong on defense, and that the team’s six seniors, including Riley and forward Daylen Harrison need to be leaders on the floor, helping new junior college transfer, Junior Karrington Ward find his place at the Convo.
“Obviously our staple is defense,” Murphy said. “I want to make sure that we’re using our athletic ability – our length, our athleticism on our front line to make sure we stifle opponents. And then, in particular, just making sure they’re being leaders on the floor. Those guys being seniors and Karrington being a junior, I just want to make sure they’re helping bring him along, but the seniors are making sure they’re being leaders and guiding us in the right direction as we tip off the year.”
Riley said this game does carry some added importance to him, as it will be his last regular season opener as an Eagle.
“I’ve been a part of five, this is my fifth year and this is the first chance I’ve had to be able to play in the one that’s my last one,” Riley said. “It means a little bit more when it’s your last one and I’ll be able to share it with some of the guys I came in here with like Daylen Harrison and Glenn Bryant and a couple guys I met along the way like Anthony Strickland and J.R. Sims.”
Redshirt freshman guard Ray Lee, who missed the majority of last season with a broken foot, will also be a factor on the court.
“He’s a versatile, dynamic scorer,” Murphy said. “He’s really hard to defend in a one-on-one situation. I’m very confident in his abilities.”
Murphy said Lee would be playing at 100 percent in the opener.
Players to Watch:
EMU R,Jr. G Mike Talley: Talley will be making his regular season debut as an Eagle, after transferring from Duquesne University, where he played 63 games, averaging 7.2 points per game in his time as a Duke.
Murphy said he will be the starting point guard to begin the year.
Albion Soph. G Eric Evans: Evans is a threat from the three-point line, going 35-of-68 from beyond the arc last year.
Murphy said the fans should be excited to see the Eagles play this year.
“You’ll have a chance to see some exciting basketball, some up tempo basketball and everywhere I’ve been that has success, the fans have been huge,” Murphy said. “If we can somehow get our fans to come to the Convo and see what great product we have, see our beautiful building and make this an advantage when we play at home, it will be a great situation. So I urge all the fans to come out and support these guys, they’ve worked hard. We have six seniors that we’re trying to send off on the right track and they’re all excited to have a great year.”
Riley agreed with his coach, adding that he’s seen more fan participation since coming here in 2011.
“I think since I’ve been coming here, we’ve gotten more participation from our fans in terms of coming to the game,” Riley said. “We’re aware that we have some fans in the Ypsilanti area that are fans of the Eastern Michigan program. It’s always good to see them come out to the games and show their support and bring more fans to show the opponents that we have a good basketball atmosphere here as well.”
Follow Al Willman on Twitter: @AlWillmanEcho