MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. – Central Michigan battled one of the MAC’s top teams from opening tip to final horn but came up short, suffering a 72-59 setback to in-state rival Eastern Michigan on Saturday evening at McGuirk Arena.
Sophomore guard Austin Stewart played a terrific game, scoring a career-high 15 points while adding seven rebounds, four steals and one assist. Chris Fowler was CMU’s only other double-figure scorer, posting 13 points, in addition to contributing six rebounds and five assists.
“I was just playing hard,” said Stewart. “I just wanted to give my team everything and give the fans everything I had. We played well, but we didn’t make enough down the stretch.”
“Just a great line from Austin,” said CMU head coach Keno Davis. “He is one of those guys that we talked about who improved in the offseason, going from a guy who wasn’t playing for us and is now in a starting role. As we looked at changing up the line-up, we said we needed Austin Stewart in there. He has to be on the court, as a guard, as a center; he just needs to be out there because he makes things happen. And he is continuing to improve. He is just learning how to play.”
The first half was chiefly a defensive struggle, as both teams combined to make just 14 baskets. Central Michigan (7-9, 0-4 MAC) built an early lead, going up 8-5 on a Braylon Rayson layup but EMU answered back with a 7-0 run, as the Chippewas suffered a seven-minute scoring draught.
The Eagles held that advantage until the 3:35 mark when, just after knocking down two free throws, Stewart dropped in a three-pointer to knot the game at 19-19. Eastern would finish the half on a mini 6-2 run to head to the break with a slim 25-21 lead.
CMU struck first after halftime, with Fowler closing the gap to two with one of several floaters he made throughout the course of the game. After EMU’s Da’Shonte Riley made two free throws, the Chippewas were able to pull within one point at 27-26, thanks to a three-point play by Stewart. An Austin Keel three-pointer just under three minutes into the half made it a one-point game again and would mark the closest Central would be able to get for the remainder of the game.
Eastern embarked on a 14-4 run over the next 4:30 to fashion a 44-33 advantage and threatened to run away with the game. Stewart once again led the charge back, first scoring a reverse layup and then stealing the ball on the ensuing EMU possession and finishing with a resounding dunk.
After a blocking call on an attempted charge by Stewart on Eastern’s next possession, Davis received a double technical and was forced to leave the game. Mike Talley made four free throws and then hit a jumper to up the Eagles’ cushion to 13 at 50-37 with 10:29 remaining.
Fowler dropped EMU’s lead below double digits at 54-45 with another floater at the 6:51 mark but the Eagles were able to get it back to 12 two minutes later. CMU still had fight left in it and made a move with under four minutes left to play. Down 60-48, Rayson made a free throw, Stewart scored on a layup and Rayson nailed a three-pointer following a steal of the inbounds pass and CMU was back in business, down just six at 60-54. However, the Chippewas could draw no closer and Eastern made its foul shots down the stretch to secure the victory.
CMU struggled from the field, shooting 35 percent for the game, including going 6-for-26 from beyond the arc and uncharacteristically missed 11 free throws (15-of-26). The Chippewas outrebounded the Eagles on the offensive end, 13-10, but fell short in the overall tally, 38-34.
Talley did the most damage for Eastern Michigan (11-6, 3-1 MAC), scoring a game-high 21 points, including converting on all eight of his free throw attempts. Karrington Ward, EMU’s leading scorer this season, finished with a double-double, totaling 15 points and 15 rebounds while Raven Lee added 10 off the bench.
The Chippewas are back on the road to start play next week, traveling to Oxford for a re-match with Miami (Ohio) (6-9, 2-2 MAC) on Wednesday in a 7 p.m. game at Millett Hall. The RedHawks downed CMU, 77-70, in Mount Pleasant on January 8 in the Chippewas’ MAC opener.
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.
For an insiders look at the 2013-14 Chippewas, click here to view the Central Michigan Men’s Basketball MAC Guide. Find feature stories, coach and player bios, videos and much more.