"A big reason why this is a really enjoyable day is because of the quality of the opponent and the quality of the program that coach (Steve) Hawkins and Western Michigan have been able to have, not just one year, but seemingly every year," said CMU head coach Keno Davis, who notched his first win as the Chippewas' coach over the Broncos. "When you're able to beat them, you know that you'd better enjoy it because it doesn't come often.”
He continued, "It's tough, when that's your rival, to sometimes take losses as you're trying to improve the program, but it's nice know that we're able to battle them on equal footing and to have an opportunity each time we step on the court."
It was big day on several levels, not the least of which is that it leaves the Chippewas (16-5 overall, 6-4 MAC) alone in second place in the MAC West, one game behind first-place Toledo. Western is 14-9, 5-5 MAC.
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By contrast, Central Michigan is enjoying a serious title chase after winning a combined 21 games over the past two seasons.
Fowler, a junior guard who scored 11 of his points in the second half, took the broad view.
"We want to play every game like it could be a signature win," he said. "We haven't had many of them in the past so we can't take for granted any one that we get.
"Yes, this is a rivalry game, it's a big game for the fans and for the community and for the students. It's one that we get excited to play and we're happy (the fans) came, but every game that we play should be a signature game.”
Western, which got 17 points apiece from Drake LaMont and David Brown, led by 13, 47-34, with under 14 minutes remaining.
A Josh Kozinski three-pointer with 13:11 left began an 18-5 CMU spurt that forged a 52-52 tie on a Simmons fastbreak layup with 8:27 left.
"I thought our toughness really came out at that point," Davis said. "I thought it was another instance where the character of this team really stood out."
The game remained tight from there. Simons drilled a triple with 1:15 left to break a 61-61 tie and put the Chippewas in front for good as they outscored the Broncos, 9-4, over the final 1:15.
Simons, who did not score in the first half, finished with nine points, all on three-pointers.
Simmons and Stewart went a combined 6-for-6 from the free throw line in the final 16 seconds to salt it away. The Chippewas committed just seven turnovers, their lowest total in seven games, and just one of those came in the second half.
Central Michigan travels to Ohio (9-12, 4-6) on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET). Western Michigan is at Bowling Green Tuesday (7 p.m. ET).
(Courtesy of CMU Athletics/MRO edit)