AKRON, Ohio - Central Michigan gave first-place Akron all it was expecting and more, holding a lead for much of the game, but in the end the Zips were able to pull away and keep the nation's longest winning streak intact with a 68-56 win to remain undefeated in the Mid-American Conference.
The Chippewas (9-13, 2-7 MAC) held leads late in both halves, but the Zips (18-4, 9-0 MAC) were able to hold them scoreless down the stretch each time to secure their 14th consecutive win.
John Simons and Kyle Randall put the Chippewas up 27-21 with 4:45 remaining in the first, but the Zips forced three turnovers and three missed shots in the remainder of the period, scoring the final seven points, including a jumper at the buzzer that gave them a 28-27 lead at halftime.
The second half was a back-and-forth battle with eight lead changes in which neither team had more than a five-point lead until the waning seconds. CMU led by five by the first media timeout, and again by four with 9:13 to play, never trailing by more than a field goal in between. But five minutes later it was Akron that had the five-point lead. Back-to-back jumpers by Randall, who ended with a game-high 22 points, brought the Chippewas within one, 55-54, with 3:04 remaining, and after a Zips basket, Chris Fowler brought CMU within one again, this time with 2:23 left.
Fowler's basket was the last for the Chippewas, however, who saw their deficit grow from one to 10 in less than 90 seconds. The Zips rattled off a 19-6 run in the final five minutes, keeping CMU out of the point column for the final 2:23.
Central Michigan avoided an early dagger and seemed to take Akron by surprise. After hitting an early three-pointer, the Chippewas found themselves on the wrong end of a 13-0 run within the first four minutes of the game. But they responded to the blow with a 9-0 run of their own to come right back within one, 13-12, and they were able to keep it close, if not lead, the rest of the way.
The Chippewas used their last timeout with 9:24 remaining when Finis Craddock stole an inbounds pass under CMU's basket but was forced to call a timeout in order to maintain possession. Randall knocked down one of his four three-pointers on the ensuing play, putting the Chippewas up four, but it proved troublesome down the road as they were unable to stop the Zips' late momentum.
Akron, the defending MAC regular season champions, received votes in both top-25 polls this week. During their 13-game winning streak, the Zips had been out-scoring opponents by 15.5 points and out-rebounding them by 10.7 rebounds.
Kyle Randall surpassed the 20-point mark for the third straight game and the ninth time this season.
Chris Fowler, in his 22nd game as a Chippewa, tied Central Michigan's Division I freshman record of 109 assists (held by Derrick Richmond, 1985-86, 24 games). He is now six away from equaling the program's all-time mark of 115 (Dirk Dunbar, 1972-73, 26 games).
Blake Hibbitts was inserted in the starting lineup for the first time this season; Derrick Richardson got his second start in as many games.
The Chippewas hit 7-of-8 from the line tonight; they entered the game averaging 22 attempts per game.
Postgame Quotes – Head Coach Keno Davis
"This is the best team in the league. We came in here, had a chance to win at the end of the game, on their court. That shows we have a ways to go but it's not as far as people might think."
"Our offense was much more efficient tonight. We ran more of our offense, got better looks. To be able to improve defensively as well as offensively, and even rebounding, in such a short amount of time is a credit to how hard these guys work."
"We did so well diving on the floor we ran out of timeouts. How can you be upset? I would have liked to use one or two of those to call a play late in the game or cut some momentum, but I wasn't too upset about it because a lot of timeouts at the end of the game won't do me a whole lot of good if it's a 20-point game. So I have to credit our guys for giving probably our best effort of the year tonight."
"Everyone has a chance. Everyone makes the tournament in our conference so we have a chance, too. We are trying to be the best team in March. Barring injury we will be playing our best basketball in March."