MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. – Chris Fowler is back.
Fowler, Central Michigan’s senior point guard, played his first game of the season Monday as the Chippewas rolled past NAIA Aquinas, 90-51, before 2,318 at McGuirk Arena.
“It felt good to be back out there and . . .
“They welcomed me back and I was happy to be here.”
Fowler, who sat out CMU’s first seven games with an injury, scored 14 points on 5-of-11 shooting and dished out four assists as the Chippewas improved to 4-4.
“It’s kind of what I expected,” CMU coach Keno Davis said of Fowler, who logged 25 minutes, 16 of them in the first half. “I expected to see some really good things and also some rust that he has to knock off and will have to continue.
“I’m not expecting that in one game or two games that you’re going to see the Chris Fowler of old. It’s our hope that as he continues to improve and continues to get experience that you’ll see it as we finish up the non-conference part of our schedule.”
Braylon Rayson hit five of his eight 3-point attempts en route to a game-high 19 points to lead the Chippewas, while freshman Corey Redman knocked down five of his seven triple tries for a career-high 15 points. The Chippewas made 15 of their 34 3-point tries (44.1 percent).
Rayshawn Simmons finished with 10 points and eight assists as the Chippewas backcourt trio of Fowler, Simmons and Rayson showed just how potent it can be.
“It’s a big difference,” Rayson said of having Fowler back in the fold. “It’s way easier when we have those three point guards. It’s way easier. That’s why we were so good last year, because we had three point guards, and it’s just really hard to guard.”
The Chippewas, who play host to Texas Southern (1-7) on Saturday (4:30 p.m.) in a non-leaguer at McGuirk, trailed 14-13 with under 12 minutes to play in the first half.
They closed the half with a 31-6 surge for a 44-22 halftime lead. Their lead swelled to as many as 36 points, 66-30, less than seven minutes into the second half.
It was important, Davis said, for the Chippewas to put together a complete game after dropping four of their last five starts, including a hard-fought 75-72 decision their last time out, before a raucous crowd in Phoenix against Grand Canyon.
“I think you saw a Central Michigan team that not only needed a win, but needed to feel good about it, and it wasn’t going to be good enough for us to have a 10- or 12-point win. We wanted to stretch it out and really show that we’ve been improving as a team and not only getting healthier,” Davis said.
“I think you could see things from us that we wouldn’t have been able to do three, four weeks ago when we opened up the season,” he added. “I think we’ve shown that we’ve improved even when Chris Fowler wasn’t on the court. I don’t discredit the game just because (Aquinas is) not a Division I team. I think it was important to see where we are and I think we can get a pretty good understanding of it.”
Fowler, runner-up in the Mid-American Conference Player of the Year balloting a year ago, is the linchpin of a CMU team that harbors very high hopes.
His return gave the Chippewas both a tangible boost, and an emotional one. And, he added, CMU may be a better team in the long run because of his absence through the first seven games.
Fowler had started every game from his freshman through junior seasons. Last year, the Chippewas used the same starting lineup in all 32 of their games: Fowler, Rayson, Simmons, John Simons and Luke Meyer.
That five started together for the first time this season on Monday.
“It’s difficult when you lose a guy that you’ve been relying on the last three years, and (it’s) a week before the first game,” Fowler said. “It would have been difficult if we would have lost anybody in our starting lineup because we’ve all been playing together for three or four years.
“It wasn’t that the team played out of character (without me), it was we were learning how to play without a key member. It’ll pay dividends down the line.”
Zac VanBeek scored 16 points and Jake Bullock added 10 for Aquinas (8-4).
(Courtesy of CMU Athletics)