Eastern was led by Raven Lee, who dropped a season-best 25 points on the Spartans and also drained a season-high four three-pointers, going 4-for-8 from beyond the arc. Mike Talley also had his best offensive game of the season, putting up 17 points and leading the team with four assists. Additionally, the pair combined for a flawless effort from the free throw line, not missing one shot out of nine attempts.
The team struggled to convert shots in the first quarter, shooting just 33.3 percent, but it came out for the second half by going 14-for-25 (56 percent). Overall, the Eagles were 23-of-52 (44.2 percent), including 7-of-20 from three-point range. Eastern shone from behind the free throw line, shooting 89.5 percent after missing just two shots out of 19 attempts.
The Eagles also saw success from their bench, as the reserves earned 24 points in the effort, compared to 11 points from UNCG. The Green and White was also more dominant in the paint with 30 points and scored 12 off fast break opportunities while allowing the Spartans to make just one fast break play.
The duo of Kayel Locke and Tevon Saddler led the way for UNC-G, scoring 14 and 13 points, respectively. Clay Byrd and Nicholas Paulos also added to the Spartan effort, hitting three triples for nine points apiece.
The Spartans were first to draw blood with a Saddler jumper-and-one to give UNCG the lead, but Lee soon delivered the equalizer with a smooth shot from beyond the arc. Nicholas Paulos proved to have a hot hand in his opening shot of the contest as well, giving the Spartans a 6-3 lead before Lee would once again drain a trey to knot the score at six.
The Eagles took their first lead of the contest, 9-8, with another three-pointer, this time coming out of the hands of Ward with a left sideline swish. The Green and White put up a fair number of shots from inside the paint, but all efforts were fruitless until Lee drove in for a layup, showcasing his efficiency both in the key and on the perimeter. The Eagles kept the Spartans scoreless for nearly three minutes when a steal and fastbreak layup by Talley forced UNC-G head coach Wes Miller to call his team in for a timeout in the face of a 13-8 deficit to the Green and White with 12:37 remaining in the half.
Coming out of the break, the formidable Eagle zone defense stagnated the UNCG attack, but the team struggled to put points on the board itself. A scoring drought continued on both sides until the 9:09 mark when RJ White hit a pair of free throws to cut the Green and White's lead to just three points, 13-10.
Brandon Nazione was able to add some much needed energy to the contest as Talley charged down the lane and dished out to the junior for a soaring slam through the rim. The Spartans kept pace with the Eagles, with the Green and White building just a five-point lead, 20-15, following an inside jumper from Anali Okoloji at the seven-minute mark. Two perfect trips to the charity stripe by Lee and Okoloji quickly gave the Eagles their largest lead of the game to that point, 24-15.
UNCG and Eastern went point-for-point during a four-minute span, each putting up just four points going into the final two minutes of the first half. The Eagles capitalized on two consecutive turnovers, keeping the Spartans from finding a bucket for the remainder of the half while Eastern closed out the first half with a 30-19 advantage.
At the half, the Eagles were led by Lee, who was the only player on the court to reach double-digit figures (10 points). On the boards, Ward grabbed six rebounds while Okoloji added four to his first half count. The team shot 33.3 percent while keeping UNCG to just a 24.0 field goal percentage, allowing 6-of-25 shots. The Eagles also out-rebounded the Spartans 30-19 and forced seven turnovers.
Once again, UNCG lit up the scoreboard first in the second half with a triple by Clay Byrd before Ethan Alvano made a drive to the hoop to chip in a pair of points and kept the Eagles on the winning side of a 32-22 count.
Byrd dropped another three points on the Green and White to cut UNCG's deficit to five points, but Lee entered the contest after being absent for the first three minutes of the half and quickly drained a trey. The Spartans saw the gap widen back up to 10 points when Ward nabbed the ball from Kayel Locke and found Talley down court for an uncontested fast break layup to give the Eagles a 37-27 lead with 15:23 to play.
UNC-G fought back with a 7-0 run fueled by its forwards. Okoloji ended the Eastern scoring drought with a put-back, and a steal by Alvano opened up the opportunity for Ward to deliver one of his crowd-rousing dunks.
Lee came up once more for the Eagles with a triple from the top of the arc for his fourth three-pointer of the contest. He then maneuvered his way through Spartan defenders for a layup that trickled out of the rim and into the hands of Ward as he waited in mid-air for the tip-in. The Eagles continued to produce in the paint when Talley made a move to the hoop, after which Okoloji swiped the ball from Paulos and handed off to Lee for a two-handed tomahawk. That left the Green and White out front with a 52-38 hold over the Spartans.
After Talley sank a three-pointer from the baseline, Ward cut through the key at an angle to rise up for a teardrop jumper just outside the paint. Lee tacked on more points with a pair of layups, one of which drew a foul and an additional point from behind the free-throw line. UNCG continued to score at a reasonable pace, as well, but it remained 17 points behind the Green and White as the score stood at 62-45 with four minutes remaining.
The Spartans cut into the score, going on a 12-2 run before the final minute of the contest forced UNCG to commit fouls. Talley went a perfect 4-for-4 from the charity stripe before Lee made the final play for the Green and White with an easy layup. Locke hit a three-pointer to close out the contest, but the Eagles emerged with the 70-62 decision.
Sunday will mark the end of the EMU Showcase as the Eagles take on Longwood University in a matinee contest. Tipoff is slated for 2:30 p.m. following a noon contest between Youngstown State and UNCG inside the Convocation Center.