MUNCIE, Ind. - Chris Fowler's double-double and Central Michigan's best shooting night in two months were not enough to complete a comeback as Ball State hung on for a 95-90 Mid-American Conference victory.
The Chippewas (9-18, 2-11 MAC) found themselves down as many as 15 in the second half but came within two in the waning seconds. Down 59-44 at the 15:13 mark, the Chippewas had their deficit down to single digits on four occasions over the next six minutes, but the Cardinals (12-14, 5-9 MAC) had an answer each time.
Finally they were able to break through the ceiling when, with 5:57 left, Blake Hibbitts hit the first of three consecutive three-pointers, and John Simons added one on the next possession that brought CMU within four with just under four minutes remaining.
The Cardinals turned right around, however, and scored five straight to go up nine at the 2:32 mark. But the Chippewas weren't done, knocking down shot after shot and sending the Cardinals to the line on each possession to stop the clock.
After scoring on 11 of 12 possessions and down three, 92-89, with 37 seconds left, the Chippewas forced a turnover on an inbounds pass under their own basket, creating a chance to come within one or tie. Kyle Randall missed a layup and a three-pointer on the possession before Simons hit one of two free throws to make it a 92-90 game with 10 seconds left but they couldn't get any closer in the final seconds.
"You have to worry at the end of a season during a losing streak about whether or not you are keeping our focus and playing hard or looking forward to spring break," said CMU head coach Keno Davis. "Looking at the way we've come back in the last two games with chances to win I know we haven't packed it in. A lot of that credit goes to our freshmen who know they will be here for a long time."
Fowler was one of five Chippewas in double-figures and CMU shot above 50 percent from the field for the first time since December 20 versus Texas State. Randall and Fowler both scored 18 points and Fowler added a career-high 13 assists while committing just four turnovers. Hibbitts scored 16 points and Austin Keel 13, accounting for half of the team's 14 three-pointers.
"In the last two or three games Chris has had a light go on that he can go by people," Davis remarked. "He's getting all the way to the basket. Thirteen assists is a big number and a double-double for a freshman point guard is a great accomplishment."
The three-pointers kept the Chippewas in the game but an uncharacteristic 61 percent performance at the line made the deficit too difficult to overcome.
Ball State's Jauwan Scaife proved troublesome for the Chippewas, pouring in 34 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the floor and 5-of-6 from long range in addition to his 12 points at the line.
"You have to give credit to (Scaife)," said Davis. "He gets to the line 13 times and hits 12 and Randall only gets there six times. In a one-possession game that could be the difference. I still think we will be a good free throw shooting team the rest of the year and in future years we might just be a great free throw shooting team."
CMU entered the game as the second-best free throw shooting team in the MAC and hit 14-of-27 for 61% . Ball State entered as the league's worst team at the line and hit 26-of-33 for 79%. Scaife got the line 13 of Ball State's 33 times.
Keel has averaged 11 points in his last two games.
The Chippewas' 52.5% field goal shooting was their highest since shooting a season-high 53.7% vs. Texas State at home on Dec. 20. It was their highest road percentage of the year and the third time over .500.
The 14 three-pointers tied a season-high set at Pepperdine and came two short of the program record.
14 of Randall's 18 points came is the second half, as did 13 of Hibbitt's 16 points.
Fowler's 13 assists is the second-highest single-game total in program history, tied with three others behind Derrick Richmond's 16 in 1988. Fowler's 143 assists this season rank seventh in the record books, 53 shy of all-time leader Dave Grauzer.
Tonight was the second time this season that CMU scored 90 points (92 vs. Texas State, Dec. 20). They have reached 90 in a MAC game just one other time in the last five years - 91 versus Ohio on February 2, 2012.