MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. – Without Chris Fowler in the lineup, it became the Bray and Ray Show for the Central Michiagn men’s basketball team.
Braylon Rayson and Rayshawn Simmons combined to score 58 points Friday as the Chippewas opened a season loaded with high expectations with an 89-83 non-conference victory over Jacksonville State before 3,116 at MGuirk Arena.
The Chippewas were without senior all-everything guard Chris Fowler, who sat out with an injury and is listed as day-to-day. It was the first time Fowler – the Chippewas’ undisputed leader -- has missed a start in his career, ending his consecutive starts streak at 94.
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“They came out and were aggressive with us and pressured us a lot,” Simmons said of the Gamecocks. “So we had to attack pressure with pressure. We tried to attack them and get them in foul trouble early.
“Me and Braylon knew we had a chance to do more for our team and when you have a chance to do more for your team or for anybody in your life, you should do more. So we took advantage of that opportunity.”
The pair combined to go 21-for-27 from the free throw line, and 5-of-9 from 3-point range. The Chippewas got just four points from sharpshooting forward John Simons, who led the Chippewas with 10 rebounds.
“I think Jacksonville State just decided to take (Simons) out of the game, and you can do that to a guy who’s a catch-and-shoot guy first,” CMU coach Keno Davis said. “But then you’re going to give up 28 and 30 points to the guards because they’ve got no (defensive) help.
“Even though John didn’t show up in the stat sheet with the points, he deserves assists for taking those (defenders) out of the play and then to still find a way to help us with the 10 rebounds.”
The Chippewas built a double-digit lead midway through the first half, and were up 43-32 at halftime. The Gamecocks, however, proved to be a stubborn out and trimmed their deficit to five points, 86-81, with under 20 seconds remaining.
A team that was so deep last season didn’t have that luxury on Friday.The Chippewas were playing not only without Fowler, but also without senior forward Blake Hibbitts who is out for the season with an injury.
“Everybody had a pretty good idea of what their role was going to be and I think the assistant coaches did a really good job in preparation of keeping our guys’ legs, keeping our energy up so that we had enough to finish the game,” Davis said.
Malcolm Drumwright scored 26 points and Jared Hamilton added 16 for Jacksonville State.
While the Chippewas – who play host to Division III Alma on Tuesday -- were certainly pleased to get the opening-night victory, they know there is plenty of work ahead.
“I would say as a team we probably played a B-minus,” Simmons said. “There’s a lot of room for improvement, especially on defense. If we’re going to have an A-plus game, we’ve got to get better, especially defensively, and tighten up our execution on offense. We found ways to make plays when we needed to make plays.”
(Courtesy of CMU Athletics)