DEKALB, Ill. – Sophomore guard Chris Fowler broke into the top 10 in the Central Michigan record book in assists but the Chippewas could not overcome two lengthy scoring droughts and a strong rebounding performance by Northern Illinois and fell to the Huskies, 88-63, on Wednesday evening in DeKalb.
With seven assists versus NIU, Fowler not only entered the top 10 but moved into eighth place on the Chippewas’ career assists list, surpassing Ryan Jansen (1994-98), Melvin McLaughlin (1980-83) and Tony Browne (2002-05). In just 54 career games, all starts, Fowler has totaled 291 assists (5.4 avg.). Entering the game as the MAC’s leading scorer in conference play, Fowler scored just below his season average, totaling 19 to go along with four rebounds and two steals.
Freshman guard Braylon Rayson was CMU’s lone other double-digit scorer, posting 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting.
Central Michigan (8-15, 1-10 MAC) shot 42 percent for the game but was hampered by a near six-minute scoreless stretch in the latter stages of the first half and then started the second half going four-plus minutes without a point. The Chippewas were also hurt by an uncharacteristic off night at the free throw line, making 11-of-19 shots (57%).
Northern Illinois (11-12, 5-6 MAC) controlled the boards, outrebounding CMU, 39-19, including owning a 27-13 advantage on the defensive end. The Huskies also ruled the paint, outscoring the Chippewas, 38-22, and got 24 points at the free throw line, making 85 percent of their attempts.
CMU fell behind by six points early on in the first half but a Rayson three-pointer at the 13:16 mark knotted the game at 14-14. Less than five minutes later, Fowler provided the Chippewas with what would prove to be their lone lead of the game, knocking down a triple for a 23-21 CMU advantage. That would also prove to be its high water mark, as NIU answered with a 13-0 run to claim momentum.
CMU’s scoring drought was ended by a John Simons three-pointer, making the score 34-26 with 2:40 remaining. Blake Hibbitts would also drain a trey before the break, but the Chippewas headed to the locker room still facing an eight-point deficit.
Northern Illinois opened the second half on a 6-0 run, stretching its lead to 15 at 44-29 with 16:40 remaining. CMU hung around over the next three-plus minutes and then made its move, sparked by the play of Fowler. He scored nine straight points and then found Rayshawn Simmons with a nice pass for a fast break layup following a steal to pull the Chippewas within six at 56-50 with 9:10 left to play. But that’s as close as CMU would get.
NIU reclaimed the momentum primarily through clutch free throw shooting. Following the CMU push, four consecutive free throws from Aksel Bolin and Balls upped the Huskies lead to 10 and that was just the beginning. Northern Illinois made 11 more from the charity stripe in the final eight-plus minutes of the game to keep CMU at bay and secure the win.
Darrell Bowie’s 19 points led four double-digit scorers for the Huskies. Aaric Armstead added 17 while Jordan Threloff and Daveon Balls had 14 and 11, respectively.
The Chippewas will remain on the road this weekend, visiting Kent State (13-11, 4-7 MAC) on Saturday for a 6 p.m. game at the Golden Flashes’ MAC Center. The contest is a rematch of the Feb. 5 meeting, won by CMU, 78-73, in overtime in Mount Pleasant.
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.