MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. – The smallest man on the court played the largest role.
Braylon Rayson, all 5-feet-9 of him, tied his career-high with seven 3-pointers en route to 26 points and a team-high nine rebounds Tuesday as the Central Michigan Chippewas held off Toledo, 77-69, in a key Mid-American Conference tilt at McGuirk Arena.
Rayson got plenty of help from his teammates as the Chippewas snapped a three-game losing streak in improving to 14-12, 7-6 MAC. They are tied for second in the West Division with the Rockets and Northern Illinois, one game behind Ball State.
While the Chippewas ended their own slide, they also halted Toledo’s win streak at four games.
“I think it’s a great win for us, especially because . . .
Chris Fowler added 16 points and eight rebounds, and DaRohn Scott also had eight boards for the Chippewas, who play at rival Western Michigan (10-16, 4-9) on Saturday at 2 p.m.
Rayson scored just three points on 1-of-7 shooting last Saturday in CMU’s loss to Ball State. He was clearly hampered after injuring his knee in the game. However, he showed no ill effects on Tuesday as he made six of his first seven 3-point tries en route to 20 first-half points, leading the Chippewas to a 45-29 lead at the break.
“I don’t think I was hoping for 26, coming off of the injury, but nothing surprises me with Braylon,” Davis said. “Some of the things that he can do don’t look like the highest percentage shot or play, but he continues to find ways to make those plays.
“I give him a lot of credit, working on his game to be able to not just be a shooter, but to be a scorer. He went from a good shooter last year to leading us in scoring this year.”
Toledo got 23 points and 10 rebounds from Boothe, a 6-foot-9, 250-pound senior. He scored 17 of his points in the second half.
“Boothe is just such a great player,” Davis said. “If there’s a way to get an unselfish 23, he just did it right there. He’s a guy that’s willing to make the extra pass or make the extra play. As funny as it might seem, holding him to 23 was a big key for us because he can beat teams single-handedly.”
The Rockets twice crept within three points late, but the Chippewas were able to keep the Rockets at bay.
Both times it was Fowler who answered when the Chippewas most needed it. Toledo drew to 65-62 when Fowler hit a short jumper with 4:29 seconds remaining to re-up the lead to five. Then, with CMU clinging to a 70-67 lead, Fowler scored on a drive while being heavily defended by Boothe to make it 72-67 with 29 seconds left.
“The right lane was open, (the defender) was a little late on the help and I was able to finish, Fowler said. “We were just taking what was there.
“We just have to keep playing and keep getting better, but it feels good to win.”
Rayson and John Simons combined to make five of six free throw attempts in the final 13 seconds to ice it.
CMU made 12 of its 27 3-point tries on the night (44.4 percent) while holding Toledo to 4-for-31 (12.9 percent) from behind the arc. The Rockets entered the game making 37.1 of their 3-pointers and averaging a MAC-best 79.1 points per game.
“I definitely think that after a win, you feel better about what you’re doing, but I think it’s important for us to go back to the practice court and not think that we have all of the answers or that we’re playing well enough,” Davis said. “We have to enjoy it and come back and try to get better. We’re just like everyone else in the conference, we’re all constantly changing positions, but maybe more importantly, we’re all trying to executive a little more offensively and defensively and we’re right there with the rest of them.”