KALAMAZOO, Mich. – Down 23 points late in the first half, Central Michigan displayed the all-heart, no-quit approach that has become its trademark in rallying from behind in the second half but came up just short in the end, falling to rival Western Michigan, 75-72, on Saturday afternoon at University Arena in Kalamazoo.
Sophomore guard Chris Fowler was a warrior, scoring a career-high 27 points, despite playing bloodied and bandaged after taking a hard fall late in the second half. He was a perfect 13-for-13 from the free throw line and added three assists and two steals. John Simons and Blake Hibbitts were also key to the comeback. Simons knocked down four critical three-pointers in the second half to finish with 12 while Hibbitts also reached double figures, scoring 12.
Trailing by 17 at 42-25 coming out of the halftime locker room, Central Michigan (7-13, 0-8 MAC) quickly went to work on getting back into the game. Early three-pointers by Fowler and Braylon Rayson got the Chippewas untracked from long range after shooting just 7% (1-of-13) from beyond the arc in the first half. Western Michigan, however, kept CMU at bay until the 16:04 mark when two Fowler free throws ignited a 9-3 run. A Stewart steal and a subsequent breakaway dunk and Simons’ first triple of the half helped pull CMU to within 13 at 53-40.
CMU continued to chip away, using clutch outside shooting and amped-up defensive pressure to pull within striking distance of the Broncos. Simons sunk two more three pointers over the next three minutes and a Rayshawn Simmons layup at the 8:20 mark cut the deficit to eight points at 60-52.
After Western Michigan’s Connor Tava made two free throws, Fowler drove to the bucket and was hammered in the lane, falling hard to the ground and hitting his head. He was down for several minutes before leaving the court to take a seat on the bench and receive treatment. Rayson filled in for Fowler at the line and sunk both free throws to get CMU back within eight at 62-54.
CMU didn’t relent with Fowler briefly out, as a Hibbitts three-point play got the Chippewas within five points. Fowler sounded his re-entry to the game by downing a three-pointer and then a few possessions later drove to the hoop for an important layup.
The epic comeback became realized over the next few minutes, as CMU got a three-pointer and two free throws from Hibbitts to get within one point at 68-67 with 2:47 remaining. Seconds later, Fowler dropped in two more free throws and with 2:30 left to play, CMU found itself in the lead.
Western scored the next four points but Simons’ fourth three-pointer of the half with just 15 seconds on the clock made the score 73-72. The Broncos then broke the CMU press and scored on an uncontested layup by Austin Richie. The Chippewas had a chance to tie it but Fowler’s three-point attempt drew back iron and time expired.
CMU shot 56 percent from the field in the second half, making up for a slow start that saw the Chippewas make just 5-of-21 from the field through the opening 20 minutes.
Western used first half runs of 8-0, 7-0 and 13-0 to build as large of a lead as 23 at 40-17 at the 3:33 mark. CMU built some momentum for the second half late in the first, outscoring WMU, 8-2, to whittle the lead down to 17. The Chippewas went 6-for-6 from the free throw line during that stretch, highlighting a 14-for-15 performance from the charity stripe in the first half. CMU shot 92 percent from the line for the game.
Western Michigan (12-8, 5-3 MAC) was led by the MAC’s leading scorer, David Brown, who posted 20 points. Shayne Whittington added 14 points and eight rebounds.
The Chippewas will begin a two-game stand on Wednesday, Feb. 5 when they host Kent State in a 7 p.m. MAC contest at McGuirk Arena. CMU will then take on Buffalo at home on Saturday, Feb. 8 at 7 p.m.
Central Michigan men’s basketball is on Twitter. Follow head coach Keno Davis (@CoachKenoDavis) and the program’s official Twitter account (@CMUMensBBall) to get insider news and information and team updates. The Chippewas are also on Facebook at www.facebook.com/CMUMensBBall.