ATHENS, Ohio – Despite a valiant effort on the road and playing some its best basketball of the season, Central Michigan couldn’t hold an 18-point second half lead and hold off a furious Ohio rally, falling to the Bobcats, 71-67, on Wednesday evening at the Convocation Center in Athens.
Sophomore guard Chris Fowler headlined the young Chippewas with a gutsy performance, scoring a team-high 19 points despite playing with four fouls for nearly the final 11 minutes of the game. Making his fifth consecutive start, freshman guard Braylon Rayson led two other Chippewas in double figures, recording 15 points. John Simons added 11 points and eight rebounds while Austin Stewart chipped in 10 points and four boards.
Central Michigan (7-12, 0-7 MAC) was the better team in the first half, generally outplaying and outhustling the larger Bobcats. A key difference was on the boards, where the Chippewas outrebounded OU, 20-16, including holding a 9-4 advantage of the offensive end. CMU shot just 38 percent overall but was 50 percent from inside the arc and made all seven of its free throw attempts.
After Ohio (15-5, 5-2 MAC) went on an early 5-0 run to go up 11-6, Fowler sunk what has become his trademark floater and Rayson nailed a fall away jumper to pull the Chippewas within one. The teams stayed within three points of each other over the next eight minutes until the Bobcats managed to move ahead 25-20 on a layup by Treg Setty. From that point on, CMU dominated play.
Started by a Stewart tip-in and ended by a Blake Hibbitts buzzer-beating layup, the Chippewas embarked on a 13-0 run to end the half. Stewart also added a dunk and a three-point play in the stretch, helping CMU fashion a 33-25 lead at the break.
CMU started fast in the second half, scoring the first five points to go ahead 38-25. Following a 5-0 run by Ohio, the Chippewas responded, scoring 10 unanswered points. Rayson put in a layup and then Hibbitts completed a rare four-point play, knocking down a three-pointer while being fouled and then sinking the free throw. Two made free throws by Simons and a Fowler layup and CMU was suddenly in front by 18 at 48-30 with 14:48 remaining.
The tide began to slowly turn from that point on, as Ohio slowly whittled away at the sizeable CMU lead. The Bobcats first went on a 9-0 run to cut the lead to nine and followed it up with a 12-3 run to tie the game at 51-51 on a layup by Stevie Taylor with 8:02 left to play.
As it has all season, CMU battled back, using a three-point play by Fowler and three-pointers by Stewart and Simons to take leads over the next two minutes.
The game then went back-and-forth. Simons scored on a drive and layup, which was answered by a three-pointer from OU’s Maurice Ndour. Rayson made two free throws to give CMU a 64-62 lead, but Ohio scored the next three. Fowler made a single foul shot to tie the game, but Nick Kellogg followed with two made free throws. Fowler scored on a scoop shot to re-tie it at 67-67 at the 2:35 mark, but CMU missed its final three attempts from the field and Ohio converted at the line to secure the win.
Ndour notched a double-double to led Ohio, posting 21 points and 11 rebounds. Kellogg added 15, including going 8-for-8 from the free throw line, while Jon Smith fell just shy of a double-double, scoring 10 to go along with nine boards.
CMU will finish out its two-game road swing this weekend when the Chippewas travel to Kalamazoo to take on rival Western Michigan (11-8, 4-3 MAC) on Saturday. Tip time is set for 2 p.m. at University Arena.
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.