MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. - John Simons scored 19 points and Chris Fowler netted 18 points with eight assists Saturday as the Chippewas ran to an 83-60 victory over Ball State in a Mid-American Conference men's basketball game at McGuirk Arena.
The win was CMU's 20th of the season (against five losses), marking the first time the Chippewas have won 20 games since 2002-03. CMU is 10-4 in the MAC, and shares the lead in the West Division with Toledo, which won at Western Michigan on Saturday.
Fowler entered the game needing six assists to become CMU's all-time leader in that category. He found Simons with 15:25 remaining, and Simons nailed a triple from the left corner. It was Fowler's record-breaking 490th career assist as he moved past Giordan Watson into the top spot.
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"Playing with (Simons) these past three years has been great," Fowler said. "I couldn't do this without my teammates, they're great. John being the type of shooter that he is, and these other guys being the type of shooters that they are, they've trusted me with the ball to put them in the right positions to score. It's a blessing.
"I'm thankful for it. It's a blessing to be able to do it in Mount Pleasant in front of these fans who have been with us. My family got to be here to see it as well.”
Braylon Rayson added 13 pints and Rayshawn Simmons had 10 for CMU, which became the first MAC team this season to reach the 20-win mark. CMU plays at Eastern Michigan in a conference game on Tuesday, then travels to Northern Illinois for another league contest next Saturday.
"We never really talked as a team about how many wins we wanted to have, but we did talk about that every game was just as important as the next," said third-year CMU coach Keno Davis. "To be able to get publicity with a 20-win season when you're picked to finish 11th in the conference ... if nothing else, (it) is really a tribute to these players and the hard work that they put in, not just this season, but for these guys who have been here for two-and-a-half to three years who have put in countless hours in the gym to get this point. It's nice to be there maybe a little bit ahead of schedule."
Sean Sellers scored 19 points to lead Ball State (7-18, 2-12), which has lost 12 consecutive games since an 83-65 win over the Chippewas on Jan. 10. Franko House added 12 points and Bo Calhoun had 11.
Fowler beat the halftime buzzer with a three-pointer to give CMU a 41-36 lead at the break. The second half was all CMU as it used a 20-4 run over a 4:39 span to pull away.
Rayson started the spurt with a layup with 17:19 left, upping the Chippewa lead to seven, 51-44. Fowler's record-breaking assist came about two minutes later, and Simons capped the surge with a pair of free throws with 10:46 remaining, making it 69-48. The Chippewas extended their lead to as many as 26 points and were never threatened in the final 10 minutes.
Central Michigan made 58 percent of its field goal attempts (29-of-50) on the night, including 50 percent (12-of-24) of their triple tries. The Chippewas were also a perfect 13-for-13 from the free throw line and outscored the Cardinals, 42-24, in the second half.
It marked the first time CMU has been perfect from the free throw line this season.
"I thought the difference tonight was our depth and that maybe we wore down a team that's had some injuries," Davis said. "And I think our depth can be a factor for us the rest of the season."
And while the Chippewas turned in one of their best halves of the season in the final 20 minutes, the story of the game was Fowler.
"I think any recognition that Chris Fowler gets is more than justified, and it doesn't say enough," Davis said. "It's amazing what he's been able to accomplish from day one until here. (He is) a guy who is your team leader, has fought through injuries. He can be a scorer, he can be the all-time assist leader, but more important is his leadership. To have all three of those things is unique and nice for a coach to have and to utilize."
Western Michigan at Ball State (Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET)
Central Michigan at Eastern Michigan (Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET)
(Courtesy of CMU Athletics/MRO Edit)