Central Michigan’s offense prevailed Saturday as CMU posted a 65-51 Mid-American Conference men's basketball victory before more than 4,000 fans at McGuirk Arena.
"There's a lot that you've seen about us being ranked nationally in a lot of different offensive categories," said CMU coach Keno Davis, whose team improved to 14-3, 4-2 MAC, "and some nights when we're shooting the way we've been able to, that stands out.
"But I think really the story of this year's team has been in going from a poor defensive team last year to a much-improved defensive team. Doesn't mean we're a great defensive team, but we do show signs of being able to be a lock-down defensive team and a rebounding team."
The Chippewas also showed they can grind it out if needed.
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Eastern (12-7, 1-5) entered the game averaging 69.7 points per game, and the Chippewas held the Eagles to more than 18 below their average. The 51 points was EMU’s third-lowest output of the season behind games against Michigan (a win) and Michigan State (a loss).
"We know we have a long way to go, but we've been able to show, I think, this year that we can win in different ways," Davis said. "We can win by knocking down the three; we've had nights where we've won with our rebounding, and I think that's unique in a college basketball team that on a given night, you don't know exactly what they need to do to win, but that they can do it in a variety of ways."
Raven Lee scored 18 points and Mike Talley added nine for Eastern, which made just 30.5 percent (18-for-59) of its field goal attempts on the night and was 1-for-10 from three-point range in the first half, when the Chippewas seized the lead and never relinquished it.
CMU hit eight of its 17 first-half triples to take a 36-23 halftime lead. The Chippewas later bumped their advantage to 21 points, 44-23, less than three minutes into the second half.
Eastern jabbed back, twice cutting its deficit to eight points, the last at 57-49 with under six minutes remaining. A pair of Simmons free throws with 5:37 left re-upped CMU's lead to 10, 59-49, and the Eagles never could work their deficit back into single digits.
It wasn't an outstanding shooting night by CMU standards. The Chippewas finished 19-for-52 (a season-low 36.5 percent) from the floor, and 10-for-29 (34.5 percent) from three-point range. However, they finished with 15 assists against just 10 turnovers.
That CMU didn't shoot particularly well could be credited, in large part, to EMU's defense. But it was also a credit to the Chippewas' own defense that they controlled the game almost from the opening tip, and won going away.
"Their zone," Fowler said, "There's only two teams that play a zone like that in the country, and that's Syracuse and Eastern Michigan. It's difficult to score. It's difficult to find shots, but I think we did a good job of moving the ball around and finding the open man.
"We didn't make a lot of our threes like we normally do, but we made ones that matter, timely ones. Good team win to gut it out down the stretch."
The Chippewas clearly got a boost from the crowd, by far the largest this season at McGuirk, where CMU is 11-0.
"It's our goal for that crowd that you saw tonight to be a common occurrence and if it is, it's going to allow you to win a few more games a year and that could be the difference between being a nice team and a team that's dancing in March in a given year," Davis said.
The Chippewas now go to East-leading Kent State (14-5, 5-1) on Tuesday for a MAC game, then return to McGuirk for the first of three consecutive league contests beginning on Saturday, Jan. 31, against Ohio.
Eastern Michigan is home Tuesday, hosting Ohio (7 p.m. ET) in the first of two home tilts.
(Courtesy of CMU Athletics/MRO edit)