CMU is 5-0 for the first time since 1980-81. Grand Canyon fell to 2-4.
Even though the Chippewas were tested for the first time of the year, they were able to make enough plays down the stretch to seal the victory, coach Keno Davis said.
"I think with our team in our first four games prior to tonight, we had found a different way to win," he said. "Whether it was a great rebounding night, great defensive night, great offensive night or great shooting night, we found ways to win.
CMU led for the vast majority of the game and never trailed in the second half, but Grand Canyon had an opportunity to steal the win in the closing seconds.
CMU led by five, 77-72, with under 40 seconds remaining when a three-point play by Joshua Braun drew the Lopes to within two, 77-75, with 38 seconds left.
An Austin Stewart free throw with eight seconds remaining increased CMU's lead to 78-75 before two free throws by Sam Daly with four seconds left pulled Grand Canyon within one, 78-77.
Another Stewart free throw extended CMU's advantage to two, 79-77, setting the stage for the Antelopes final possession of the game with 4.2 seconds left. Off the inbounds pass, Daly drove the length of the court to the lane, but was met by three Chippewa defenders in the paint. He was forced to kick the ball out to Jerome Garrison on the perimeter, but time expired before Garrison could get a final shot off and the Chippewas came out on top in a nail biter.
"It's important to play in close games just because you have to have that kind of experience," Davis said. "Some of those guys are doing it for the first time or being put in those situations. So we can go back to the practice court tomorrow and say, `Here's where you didn't execute and here's what you can do and how you can react.'
"It's nice to be able to have those close games, but to be able to come up with a win and find a way is a credit to those players being tough enough to not get down when opponents make big threes or have calls that don't go their way."
Fowler came up big with 26 points, seven of which came in the final five minutes to help the Chippewas close out the game. The 26 points were one shy of Fowler's career high.
"I just have to take what the defense gives me," Fowler said. "In the previous games, the defense was cutting me off in the lane so the passes were open. In this game, they weren't necessarily cutting me off, so the drives were open. It's going to change game-to-game. I have to feel it out and see what happens."
Outside of Fowler, CMU had two other players reach double digits in points: John Simons contributed 21 and Rayshawn Simmons added 10. Simons also tallied a team-high seven rebounds with Simmons close behind that mark at five.
The Chippewas shot 45.8 percent from the field but only totaled nine assists in the game. They also allowed GCU to shoot 57.4 percent on the night.
"We did a lot of things well, but there's still things we need to improve," Simons said. "There's something to be said when you can win a game when a lot of things aren't going right.
"We weren't playing well defensively. We gave up almost 60 percent shooting from the field to (GCU), and a lot of times you're not going to win those games where that happens."
In spite of the Chippewas' defensive struggles, they were able to force 15 turnovers while committing just four turnovers of their own.
"Coming into the game, forcing turnovers and preventing turnovers of our own were the two glaring weaknesses to our team," Davis said. "So to be able to force 15 turnovers and only commit four, I wouldn't have guessed that. To be able to win the game -- probably in that statistical category-- is nice."
The game carried special significance with GCU coach and CMU legend Dan Majerle making a homecoming. Majerle, a Michigan native, is among the best to ever wear a Chippewas uniform. He is the program's second all-time leading scorer, is a member of the CMU Marcy Weston Athletics Hall of Fame, and had an outstanding professional career after leaving CMU.
He averaged more than 20 points in three of his four seasons as a player at Central Michigan and was an All-MAC selection all four years. He went onto to play for the Phoenix Suns, where he earned NBA All-Star honors.
"I haven't been back to Mount Pleasant for quite a while," Majerle said. "It's just amazing. They did a great job on the (McGuirk) arena and the facilities are great. I actually got in the car this morning and drove around Mount Pleasant, went to a couple spots I used to go to.
"It was good driving around and seeing everything. The town has really grown and I'm really impressed with the arena and the practice facilities. They've done a nice job here and it was really nice to be back."
"I give credit to coach Majerle and his team," Davis said. "You're looking at a program that's just in its second year of Division I. The players play hard and they're a reflection of their coach and how he played, not just (at CMU) but in his long NBA career. I wish them the upmost success."
The Chippewas travel to Peoria, Ill. to face Bradley (2-4) on Tuesday.
(Courtesy of CMU Athletics/MRO Edit)
(Majerle Image - GCU Athletics)