Courtesy: Tim Fitzgerald/CMU Athletics
Freshman Chris Fowler delivers one of his six assists against Ball State Saturday night in McGuirk Arena. Fowler has 20 assists and just four turnovers in his last three games.
Chippewas Use Defense to Outlast Cardinals, 71-57

MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. - Central Michigan used a solid defensive effort to outlast Ball State and open a three-game Mid-American Conference homestand with a 71-57 league win and its first come-from-behind victory of the season.

The Chippewas (9-8, 2-2 MAC) fought for a 13-2 run in the first eight minutes of the second period to turn their largest deficit of the night-six points-into what was at that time their largest lead of the night, a 48-43 advantage with 11:28 to go. They didn't shoot particularly well during the stretch, hitting 5-of-13 from the field, but they held the Cardinals (7-9, 1-3 MAC) to just 1-of-6 during the run and forced them into six turnovers.

The Cardinals hung around to come as close as three on several occasions and were within five with 3:17 left, but Blake Hibbitts' fourth three-pointer of the game sparked a 7-0 run that put the game out of reach, 66-54, with 1:41 to play. Picking up momentum as the game went on, the Chippewas ended on a 12-3 run over the final three minutes.

Ball State had led 37-35 at the half after hitting six of their 15 long-range attempts, allowing Central Michigan to record its first win this season when trailing at the half. The first period featured six ties and four lead changes. It looked as though the second half was headed in the wrong direction when the Chippewas opened 1-of-8 from the field, but they were able to stay close by forcing the Cardinals into five turnovers in the first four minutes.

The Cardinals turned the ball over a total of 17 times, which the Chippewas turned into 15 points, while giving the ball up just seven times themselves. Olivier Mbaigoto paced the defense and brought the crowd to its feet twice with three key blocks-two to preserve small second-half leads. The first came on a fast-break one-on-one layup, and the second came minutes later when Ball State attempted a dunk coming out of a timeout.

Both teams collected 16 offensive rebounds but Central was able to capitalize on those for 17 points while Ball State had just six second-chance points.

Mbaigoto finished in double-digits for the second straight game, this time with 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting. He was joined in double figures by Kyle Randall's game-high 16 and Hibbitts' 12. Mbaigoto and John Simons each grabbed six rebounds.

"I think that a lot of the publicity, and deservingly so, has gone to Kyle Randall as being a leader of this team, but I think you can look down this roster tonight and make a case for four or five guys being our best player tonight and leading us to victory," said head coach Keno Davis. "As those guys continue to develop, as I believe they will as young players, we could be a tough team by the time the second half of the conference season comes around.

"I am not too sure how good of a ball club we are or how good we could become, but I think in year one when we have so much transition and we have six freshmen in our rotation, that is a good thing. We don't know what our ceiling is.

"We just come out and see how hard we can work. After the game we are going to be disappointed if we lose but more disappointed if we feel like we didn't out-work the other team."

Additional game notes:

Ball State had won the last five meetings in the series.

51 percent of tonight's scoring (36 points) came from seniors - Randall, Mbaigoto, Craddock.

The Chippewas won their fourth in a row at home and improved to 5-1 in McGuirk Arena this season.

Freshman Chris Fowler dished out six assists and committed just one turnover. Over the last three games he has a 4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Senior Zach Saylor returned to action in his first game since Nov. 28 (Bradley). He played four minutes off the bench.

Mbaigoto fouled out with 34.4 seconds remaining-just the third time this year a Chippewa has fouled out of a game.

The Chippewas scored 80 points for the eighth time this year, including the fourth time in the last five games. They are 5-3 when scoring at least 70 points.

CMU tipped off its longest home stand of the year and will play a total of three MAC games in McGuirk over seven days.

Ball State is the fifth opponent to score fewer than 60 points, and the fourth to score 55 or fewer.