MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. - Freshman guard Braylon Rayson scored 13 of Central Michigan’s 16 points in triple overtime to lead the Chippewas to a thrilling come-from-behind 101-95 victory over Ball State on Wednesday night at McGuirk Arena.
Rayson, who finished the game with a career-high 30 points, contributed one of many heroic performances in securing the Chippewas’ second MAC win of the season. Blake Hibbitts knocked down three three-pointers in the span of 22 seconds at the end of regulation to tie the game and force overtime. Chris Fowler and Austin Stewart used different ways to get there but each notched double-doubles. Fowler overcame a slow start to score right at his season average of 18 points and added 12 assists against just one turnover. Stewart, who recorded a career-high 17 points to go along with 10 rebounds, was strong from the start, keeping CMU in the game while the team battled through early struggles.
“I think tonight’s game was important for us, not to be competitive, like we’ve been, but to get some results for our hard work," said CMU head coach Keno Davis. "It would have been tough to lose this game to be able to look at the last five games and be able to put up that type of effort and not be rewarded for it.”
Central Michigan (9-16, 2-11 MAC) trailed for nearly the entire game, including the all of the first half. The Chippewas shot just 39 percent from the field (11-of-28) and never led in the contest’s opening 20 minutes. Rayson and Stewart scored nine points each to keep CMU within striking distance, but the Chippewas headed to the break down by eight at 38-30.
CMU picked up the pace in the second half, starting fast by outscoring Ball State 8-2 out of the locker room to pull within two at 40-38. However, the Cardinals responded, beginning a trend that would repeat over and over again throughout much of the remainder of the second half. As soon as CMU would get close, Ball State would knock down a big shot or go on a mini-run to keep the Chippewas at bay.
That is until the final minute of regulation time when Hibbitts’ took center stage and shot the lights out with his barrage of three-pointers.
CMU fell behind in the first overtime and didn’t score until the 2:49 mark when Fowler made a single free throw to get the Chippewas to within three at 75-72. John Simons then closed the gap and tied the game with a three-pointer two possessions later. After the teams traded buckets, Fowler had one last look at the basket but his eight-footer from the right wing fell just short, forcing a second overtime.
The Chippewas led for much of the second overtime, including at the 3:16 mark when Simons drilled another clutch three-pointer. After Ball State re-tied the game at 83-83, Stewart gave the lead back to CMU with a emphatic dunk on a run out with 1:30 remaining. However, Ball State senior forward Chris Bond would score on a layup on the ensuing possession, again knotting the game. Each team missed an opportunity to secure the win with empty possessions but CMU got one last shot with three seconds remaining. After the inbounds, Fowler took a pass from Simons and had an open look from beyond the arc but his shot rimmed out.
The third overtime proved to be showtime for Braylon Rayson, as he put the team on his back and took the game over. The freshman point guard was unstoppable, slashing to the basket, making free throws and downing a three-pointer to push CMU over the top. Rayson scored the Chippewas’ first 11 points of the period and Ball State had no answer for him on either end of the court. Fittingly, he scored CMU’s final two points of the game and inched the Chippewas over the century mark, sinking two free throws with 10 seconds left to play.
Uncharacteristically poor free throw shooting hampered CMU, which proved to be a factor at key times throughout the game. The Chippewas shot just 50 percent, making 19-of-38 attempts while Ball State shot at CMU’s normal average, 73 percent.
Offsetting the off night at the line was CMU’s ability to force turnovers and take care of the ball. Ball State totaled 15 turnovers, which the Chippewas turned into 21 points. CMU remarkably had just six turnovers in 55 minutes of game time.
Ball State (4-20, 1-12 MAC) was led by Bond, who posted 21 points and 12 rebounds. Freshman guard Zavier Turner added 20 points but fouled out with 2:33 remaining in the third overtime. Senior center Majok Majok, who entered the game averaging a double-double, was limited to six points and six rebounds before leaving the game in double overtime with an injury.
The Chippewas remain at home this weekend, hosting MAC West foe Northern Illinois (11-13, 5-7 MAC) in a 2 p.m. game on Sunday in McGuirk Arena. CMU will aim to avenge an 88-63 loss to the Huskies on Feb. 12 in DeKalb.
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.