"I've been using the talking point for a long time about the character of our student-athletes," said CMU coach Keno Davis after his team improved to 13-3, 3-2 MAC. "A lot of times you hear that from coaches when they're not able to talk about wins, when the wins aren't there. But I think where we've come in the program (is) that it is the character of our student-athletes that is allowing us to be successful as the level we are right now."
The Chippewas trailed 45-38 at halftime before catching fire in the final 20 minutes. They made eight of their 11 second-half three-point attempts and tightened the screws on defense to pull away from the Bulls (12-5, 3-2), who entered the game with an RPI of 47, the best among MAC teams.
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Justin Moss, the MAC's leading scorer and rebounder, got his, finishing with 26 points and nine rebounds to lead the Bulls. Buffalo's Jarryn Skeete hit four three-pointers and finished with 15 points, all of which came in the first half. Buffalo, which had won the last six meetings with the Chippewas, made 59.4 percent of its field goal attempts in the first half, and 5-for-10 from long range.
The Chippewas, however, outscored the Bulls 46-28 in the second half, holding them to 34.5 percent shooting, including a 2-of-11 clip from three-point range. "We guarded," Rayson said. "We really guarded the second half. Defense came in; we shut them down."
Silencing Skeete and limiting Moss (who had 15 points in the first half) in the final 20 minutes was key for the Chippewas.
"(Skeete) was a talking point, to put it mildly, at halftime," Davis said. "I think our guys have a very high basketball IQ, and in the game plan we knew how we were going to identify him, and we did not do that well in the first half where he was on pace for a 30-point night.
"We re-emphasized it for the second half, what we were going to do and how we were going to play him. I give our guys credit for having a different focus on what we needed to do.
"Nothing seemed to work both offensively or defensively, and we were also getting out-muscled in toughness in the first half," Davis said, "To be able to come back in the second half and flip the switch, I think, shows another sign of some of the character that we have on this team.
"We can't get too high on this game, it was a great win for us, but we need to continue to improve. And if we do so, we're going to have a chance every night that we step on the court."
John Simons added 15 points and nine rebounds, and Rayshawn Simmons had 11 points for the Chippewas, who outrebounded the Bulls, 36-31, and finished 16-for-29 (55.2 percent) from three-point range.
A Simons triple just 46 seconds into the second half ignited an 11-plus-minute CMU surge, during which the Chippewas outscored the Bulls 31-8. That turned a nine-point deficit into a 14-point lead, 69-55, with just over eight minutes to play.
"We played 20 minutes of man (defense) in that second half," Davis said. "I didn't think there was a chance we could have done that in that game, but our guys, to their credit, sat down and gave a great effort. It wasn't always great defense, but it was as good of an effort, I think, for 20 minutes, that we might have had all year."
The Chippewas hit six triples during the spurt, three of them from Rayson.
When “you're hitting shots, it just feels like throwing a rock in the ocean," said Rayson, who finished 7-for-13 from the floor including 5-of-9 from three-point range. "You feel like you can't miss; everything you shoot, you feel like it's a good shot."
The Chippewas plays host to Eastern Michigan (12-6, 1-4) on Saturday at McGuirk Arena. Buffalo hits the road again, traveling to Athens Saturday (2 p.m. ET) for a matchup against Ohio.
(Courtesy of CMU Athletics/Andy Sneddon/MRO Edit)