Central Michigan shoots to its best start in 40 years

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Mount Pleasant – — Keno Davis, when he took over as head coach prior to the 2012-13 season, had visions of Central Michigan running up and down the floor, scoring 80-plus points and making 3-pointers in bunches to earn wins.

Davis has to be thrilled watching the Chippewas play in his third year. They are off to their best start in 40 years following an impressive 80-67 win at Northwestern Wednesday night to improve to 7-1.

And yes, the Chippewas are running up and down the floor, making threes and scoring in the 80s … and higher. They tied a Mid-American Conference record by making 20 threes, out of 35 tries, Dec. 6 in a 94-61 rout of Southern Illinois-Edwardsburg, then followed that outing with the win at Northwestern, making 10 of 18 threes.

Davis' best move when he first took over was recruiting Detroit Country Day point guard Chris Fowler and 6-foot-8 deep threat John Simons of Cadillac, but his biggest move since could be bringing in 6-11 big man Luke Meyer from Addison this past offseason to put Simons in his normal position, the four spot.

Davis and his staff also brought in 5-9 sophomore guard Braylon Rayson, who averaged 30.4 points his senior year at Dallas West Mesquite, leading his team to a 30-win season.

Still, Davis knew he had a leader in Fowler. And, Fowler has lived up to the billing and improved his game, taking the ball to the basket when not setting up his teammates to score or get to the line.

"I think the biggest thing (in our start) is the physical, emotional and mental maturity of the basketball team," said Fowler, who leads the Chippewas in scoring (14.3) and assists (6.5). "We're learning not to take days for granted because for some of us, a lot of the guys we came in with, we're closer to being finished than we are to being started. It means a lot for us to get better every day and every time we step on the court, enjoy playing together, go out there and give it your all.

"We're learning how to share the ball. I think there's been a lot of games this year where we've had 20 assists on 25 field goals, 21 assists on 28 field goals. Everybody is sharing the ball with one another because we trust one another to do what we're supposed to do. And, defensively we're playing better, too. We're getting a few more stops than we have in the past and that still needs to get better."

Davis is playing 10 or 11 players a game, giving everybody ownership to the success or failure, and they're making the most of it. In a 75-63 win over Youngstown State last month, 11 players scored and the Chips limited their opponent to 36 percent shooting while holding a 54-30 rebounding advantage. In the win over Southern Illinois-Edwardsburg, 12 players scored with eight making 3-pointers.

The win over Northwestern was CMU's first over a Big Ten team since a victory at Michigan Dec. 15, 2007. The Chips played the perfect game Wednesday, shooting 58.3 percent from the field, making the 10 threes and connecting on 14 of 17 free throws while holding a 31-26 advantage on the glass.

Meyer played like a veteran against Northwestern, scoring 18 on 8-of-10 shooting while grabbing five rebounds. Rayson is averaging 12.4 points and has scored 19 in each of the last two victories. He hit 3 of 5 3-pointers against Southern Illinois-Edwardsburg and 4 of 5 at Northwestern.

Simons is averaging 11.1 points and a team-high six rebounds, and has made 23 of 40 threes.

"I'm pretty sure he could do this in his freshman and sophomore years, but he was playing out of position and it took everything he had to battle with the biggest guy on the other team and try to keep the biggest guy on the other team off the boards and out of the paint and still try to be a rim protector, and then go on the other end and try and be a secondary option offensively," Fowler said. "That can wear on somebody and in actuality he is now able to play in his normal position, which is the four, and our bigger guys which our coaches have recruited and developed have taken the pressure off of John defensively.

"Now, when we do some things offensively, like pick-and-roll, John doesn't have to be the screen guy, he gets to sit there and do what he likes to do best, which is spot up and shoot, and he does it very well. He's really knocking them down right now."

And, so is everyone Central Michigan, which hosted Concordia Friday, trying to build on its impressive start with their MAC opener less than a few weeks away at West Division favorite Toledo Jan. 6.

No one is saying the Chippewas are on their way to winning their first MAC title since 2003, but they sure are fun to watch again.