Andy Sneddon, CMUChippewas.com
MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. - It didn't come easily. Nothing in March ever does.
Central Michigan outscored Bowling Green, 16-12, in overtime Monday in wrestling away an 81-77 victory in a first-round Mid-American Conference Tournament game before 1,910 at McGuirk Arena.
CMU (19-13) will play top-seeded Buffalo (23-8) on Thursday at noon in a quarterfinal game at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. The Bulls are the regular-season league champions. CMU, which is riding a three-game win streak, is seeded eighth.
"For our guys to play as hard as they did, but also not get down when things weren't going their way late in the game," CMU coach Keno Davis said. "Even though we had lost several games like this early in the year ... to be able to have the confidence to make the play and the toughness to be able to come through on both ends of the court is a credit to the character of this team as much as anything."
Five Chippewas scored in double figures: Cecil Williams scored 18 points, Luke Meyer had 16, Shawn Roundtree Jr. had 15, Kevin McKay finished with 14, and David DiLeo had 12.
DiLeo led the Chippewas with 10 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the season, and McKay grabbed eight boards. Williams tied his career high with six assists, and he scored 11 of his points in overtime.
"It was a great team effort," said CMU's Josh Kozinski, one of four seniors who played his final game at McGuirk. "We know everyone on this team can get going and Cecil had the hot hand (in overtime), so we fed him."
Justin Turner and Antwon Lillard scored 17 points apiece for Bowling Green. Demajeo Wiggins, Bowling Green's second-leading scorer, finished with three points on 1-of-9 shooting. Wiggins had a game-high 12 rebounds.
HOW IT HAPPENED
CMU opened the overtime with a 7-0 run to seize a 72-65 lead midway through the five-minute extra session. Bowling Green trimmed CMU's lead to three, 77-74, with under 20 seconds remaining. Williams hit two free throws with 17 seconds left, and McKay iced it with a pair of charity tosses with 5 seconds to go.
The Chippewas made nine of their 10 free throw attempts in overtime. The Chippewas entered the game second in the nation in free throw shooting (80.8 percent) and finished 22 of 30 from the line.
"I felt like we had legs and energy even though (in overtime) we had played a lot of minutes," Davis said. "Being able to knock down free throws is something we've done all year. When you're able to get into the double bonus and able to attack the basket, it sure puts a lot of pressure on the defense.
"The energy we had late and the free throw shooting we've been able to make all year (made the difference)."
The Chippewas celebrated the senior class - Meyer, Kozinski, Williams and John McCarty - in a postgame ceremony. The Senior Night celebration had been scheduled for last Friday's game with Western, but that was scrapped when the game was postponed and moved to Northwood because of Friday's on-campus shooting.
"With the adversity we faced in the Western game, knowing we had to win that game in order to get a home game, it put a little bit more of a chip on our shoulder during it," Meyer said. "Then being able to say goodbye to the fans as we should is a really good feeling.
"(This program) has been everything to us. I can speak for everyone on our team that it's a 24-hour gig. Every single day, you're eating, sleeping and thinking basketball. Without the support of our fans, coaches and teammates it would be impossible. Our lives have been basketball, but with the support from everyone it's been a really good ride."
Monday's contest marked the first MAC Tournament game that CMU has hosted.
TIGHT ALL THE WAY
The game featured 10 ties and 10 lead changes. Neither team led by more than eight points.
The Chippewas lost their lone meeting with Buffalo, 88-82, at McGuirk Arena on Feb. 6.
"We owe (Buffalo) one," Meyer said. "They stole one from us here at home. It was a relatively close game, so we definitely owe them one. I think we're going to come out with a kind of underdog attitude, like we're not expected to do anything. I think we're going to come out and surprise some people."