Men's basketball wins season opener over St. Francis, 64-52.

The Eastern Michigan men’s basketball team kicked off the EMU Classic and the regular season with a 64-52 win over St. Francis University Friday afternoon at the Convocation Center.

Karrington Ward was the leading scorer for the Eagles (1-0) with 16 points on 7-of-15 shooting in 16 minutes. He was 1-of-5 from three-point range.

Ray Lee (11 points, 5-of-9 shooting) and Anali Okoloji (10 points, 3-of-5 shooting) also had good days for EMU.

Ward pulled down a team-best eight rebounds.

“I thought Karrington stepped up and made some shots,” EMU coach Rob Murphy said. “I thought Anali stayed steady. Those guys are seniors … it was good to see them step up and do some positive things.”

Ward spoke about his expectations this season – especially as a senior leader on the team.

Karrington Ward (EMU): 16 points, 8 rebounds, 30 minutes

Ray Lee (EMU): 11 points, 27 minutes

Jens Kennedy (St. Francis): 18 points, 27 minutes

“I’m looking to bring a lot more leadership this year,” Ward said. “Last year we had a lot of guys that could put the ball in the basket. This year, we have a lot of guys that can score, but Coach Murphy is depending on me. I just have to come up with that aggressive mentality every game.”

Jens Kennedy scored a team-high 18 points on 8-of-16 shooting for the Fighting Saints (2-2).

He also led the team with eight rebounds.

Eastern went on an 8-0 run in the first two minutes of the game. St. Francis answered with two runs (6-3 and 10-4) to tie the score at 22 midway through the half.

“I thought we came out a little sluggish,” Murphy said. “It’s always tough when you don’t play any exhibition games. You don’t get a game feel to really play together.”

Both teams traded baskets in the last 7:21 before Alvano made 2-of-3 free throws after being fouled by Jens Kennedy on a three-point attempt with five seconds remaining in the half.

Lee was Eastern’s leading scorer at the break with nine points on 4-of-5 shooting. He made his only free-throw of the half.

Ward scored eight points on 4-of-10 shooting.

Jo Jo Ballestero led the Fighting Saints in scoring with nine points off the bench on 3-of-5 shooting from three-point range.

“All in all, we allowed them to shoot the ball too well from the three-point line in the first half,” Murphy said. “We addressed that at half time and we came out and didn’t allow a three-point make until right there at the end of the game.”

The Eagles started to pull away early in the second half.

Ethan Alvano made a three-pointer and Anali Okoloji put a layup in off the glass to start a 10-0 run in the first seven minutes as the Eagles cruised to the 12-point win.

“Being the team that we are, I thought we could have played a lot better,” Ward said. “We did a pretty good job for not playing an exhibition game. I think we just have to pick it up.”

Looking Ahead

The Eagles take on Oakland University Monday night at the Convocation Center.

Eastern last played the Grizzlies at Oakland on Dec. 21, 2013 – winning 81-79 in overtime.

Mike Talley was the Eagles’ leading scorer with 21 points. Glenn Bryant added 14.

Ward – who scored nine points in 37 minutes against OU last year – said he’s hoping to continue the success the Eagles had against the Grizzlies.

“They’re a tough team,” Ward said. “They play hard. They have a lot of good guys on that team. It’s actually our first real test game – to me. Murph [Coach Murphy] said that in the locker room.”

Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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Follow Al Willman on Twitter: @AlWillmanEcho

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