MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. – A 22-point, 11-rebound performance by sophomore forward John Simons and a strong team defensive effort in the second half lifted Central Michigan to its first MAC win of the season, a 78-73 overtime thriller over Kent State on Wednesday night at McGuirk Arena.
Simons put on a shooting exhibition in the second half, sinking five three-pointers en route to recording CMU’s first double-double of the season and helping the Chippewas erase a seven-point halftime deficit. After being hampered by foul trouble early in the game, sophomore guard Chris Fowler, the MAC’s leading scorer in conference play, bounced back in a big way in both the second half and overtime, totaling 18 points, five assists, and four steals. Braylon Rayson and Rayshawn Simmons, who each scored 10 points, made key plays down the stretch to secure the victory.
“It’s nice to be able to come in after each game and talk about how hard this team is playing and improving, but it’s better to come in and talk about winning even more," said CMU head coach Keno Davis. "Because of the effort we’ve been putting forward, the losses take its toll, so it’s nice to get the monkey off the back and it gives us the opportunity to play a little looser in crunch situations. It didn’t take a basketball mind to see we were a bit tight on the free throw line or on defense, and I think winning can help cure that. I think we can go back to the practice court and fix those deficiencies we had with a winning streak going forward.”
Central Michigan (8-13, 1-8 MAC) looked to be closing in on a win in regulation, owning a four-point lead with under two minutes left to play, but back-to-back three-pointers by Kent State’s K.K. Simmons in the final 45 seconds knotted the score at 61-61. CMU has one last good look at the basket but a Fowler layup was no good and an Austin Keel put back spun on the rim and dropped out, sending the game to overtime.
Play in the overtime period was back-and-forth; just as CMU looked to be pulling away, the Golden Flashes would respond. Three different times the Chippewas would cobble together a four-point lead and KSU would answer back with a three-pointer or three-point play to keep it close. As he was all night, Simons’ was huge for CMU in overtime, scoring eight points.
After Fowler completed a three-point play to make the score 74-70 with 34 seconds remaining, Kent State got one of those clutch three-pointers, as Kellon Thomas knocked down the trey. Blake Hibbitts was then fouled and sent to the line, where he made 1-of-2, pushing the CMU lead to two at 75-73. With the ball looking to tie or win the game, Kent State’s Simmons committed an offensive foul, giving the ball back to the Chippewas. Rayshawn Simmons, who missed two key free throws late in regulation, redeemed himself by downing 3-of-4 in the final 15 seconds to secure the win for CMU.
In the first half, CMU shot just 32 percent and Fowler was held at bay by a physical Kent State defense, scoring two points through the first 20 minutes of play. Kent State was able to establish momentum toward the end of the half, going on an 8-2 run over the final four-plus minutes to head to the halftime locker room with a 32-25 lead.
CMU stormed from the break, led by Simons, who knocked down three three-pointers through the first 3:25 of the half to pull the Chippewas within three at 37-34. At the same time, Central amped up the full court pressure, forcing Kent State into multiple turnovers. The Golden Flashes also quickly got into foul trouble, receiving four personal fouls through the first 2:30 of play.
With the score tied at 43-43, the Chippewas went on a 12-4 run, getting seven consecutive points from Fowler to stake its largest lead of the game at eight. Kent State then scored seven of the next eight to get to within two points at 56-54 but a Rayson fast break layup ended the run. The teams traded single free throws before the Golden Flashes’ Simmons took center stage beyond the arc to force the overtime.
CMU battled on the boards throughout the game, outrebounding Kent State, 37-34. Besides Simons, Austin Stewart and Hibbitts hit the glass hard, recording seven and six rebounds, respectively. Also key was the Chippewas’ ability to score off the 18 turnovers they caused, turning the miscues into 22 points.
Kent State (12-10, 3-6) was led by Kris Brewer’s 17 points and Darren Goodson’s double-double of 15 points and 10 rebounds.
The Chippewas will be back in action this weekend, welcoming Buffalo (12-7, 6-3 MAC) to Mount Pleasant on Saturday for a 7 p.m. clash.
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.