Andy Sneddon, CMUChippewas.com
EVANSTON, Ill. – At some point, they may look back on this one as a turning point for the Central Michigan men’s basketball program.
Braylon Rayson scored 19 points, Luke Meyer added a career-high 18, and Rayshawn Simmons and Chris Fowler had 13 and 12 points, respectively, Wednesday as the Chippewas toppled Northwestern, 80-67, at the Wildcats’ Welsh-Ryan Arena.
It was CMU’s first win over a Big Ten team since it won at Michigan, 78-67, on Dec. 15, 2007, and it improved to 7-1 for the first time since 1974-75.
“I thought it was such a good team win although we had some standout (individual) performances,” said Keno Davis, who is in his third year as CMU’s coach. “We had a great attitude, great effort right from the tip all the way to the end of the game. It was a team effort and that’s really what we’ve been building towards.”
The Chippewas trailed just once, 2-0. They seized control and led by as many as 12 points late in the first half, and stretched their lead to 19 with under three minutes remaining.
The Chippwas made 10 of their 18 three-point attempts (55.6 percent) and finished at 58.3 percent from the floor overall. They also knocked down 14 of their 17 free throw tries.
CMU outrebounded the Wildcats, 31-26. Meyer, John Simons and Fowler had five boards apiece to lead the Chippewas.
“We outrebounded a Big Ten by five and your leading rebounder for the night has five rebounds -- that’s a team effort,” Davis said. “If we can continue on that and have some individual improvement it’s really going to be exciting to see what this team’s about, not only in future years, but this year as well.”
The Chippewas held Northwestern to 41.9 percent shooting from the floor, including a 6-for-19 effort from three-point range. Northwestern (6-4) was coming off a 101-49 victory over Mississippi Valley State.
“To hold Northwestern to 42 percent (shooting) after they had just put 100 points up in their last outing …” Davis said. “You can’t just be an offensive team or a defensive team or a good rebounding team. You need all of those to be a team that contends for a championship. And that’s really been our goal from day one. Maybe we’re a little closer than we thought, but this was a good step forward tonight.”
CMU led, 36-29, at halftime then saw the Wildcats creep within three, 46-43, with under 14 minutes remaining. Fowler scored on a layup to trigger a 13-4 CMU run that upped the lead to 12, 59-47, with just over nine minutes to play.
Blake Hibbitts, Josh Kozinski and Rayson nailed three-pointers during the spurt. Northwestern never got closer than nine points the rest of the way.
“I’d like to say that I had some great inspiring message,” Davis said of what transpired in the timeout huddle after Northwestern had trimmed CMU’s lead to three points. “But I think more importantly to this group was to give them the message of not really addressing it, just focus on what we’re doing. Focus on our defense, focus on our rebounding, focus on our execution. Don’t talk about the score and kind of let that take care of itself.”
Fowler, the junior guard who is the Chippewas’ linchpin, played a critical role during that stretch, Davis said. Fowler logged 38 minutes and finished with five assists, sharing the team lead with Simmons. Simmons’ 13 points were a career-high.
“How did we not get rattled?” Davis asked. “I’ve got to give the credit to Chris Fowler. He played 38 minutes. We felt like we needed him out there. And Rayshawn Simmons, what a great game he gave us and he would have played a lot more minutes had he not gotten in foul trouble. You saw him play with so much confidence tonight. It was nice to see a variety of guys come through in clutch situations.”
Meyer in particular. It was a breakout game for the 6-foot-11 freshman, who made eight of his 10 field goal attempts including 2-of-3 from three-point range.
“It’s a tough thing for a coach when you’re so excited about a recruit,” Davis said, “and you know your fan base wants something to be excited about, yet you don’t want to put too much pressure on that individual where he’s expected to come in as a freshman and shoulder the load.
“It’s nice to have (fellow big men) DaRohn Scott and Milos Cabarkapa, to have three guys in there to try to deflect some of that (from Meyer). But (Meyer is) one of those special players, with his skill set and his size he’s going to be really good for us. He poses such a problem for defenses. And as he gets stronger, that’s exciting to see what he’s going to develop into.”
The Chippewas play host to Concordia on Friday then go to McNeese State on Monday, Dec. 22.