Central Michigan has averaged 20 wins the past five years and Keno Davis’ Chippewas are well on their way to reaching or surpassing that total again this season while contending for the MAC West Division championship.
Davis says his team’s depth, along with talent, will go a long way to wearing down teams late in games to pull out victories.
That was the case last Tuesday when the Chippewas pulled out a 68-67 win over Northern Illinois on a layup by Kevin McKay as time expired.
CMU (9-7, 2-1 West) won its first two MAC games, both at home, with the Chippewas making 15-of-29 3-pointers in a 93-82 win over Miami of Ohio, with Dallas Morgan making 5-of-7 3-pointers, then McKay scoring 21 in the win over Northern Illinois.
CMU lost at Kent State (13-3, 3-0 East) Saturday, 79-73, without McKay in the lineup, and having point guard Devontae Lane injured early in the second half. But the Chips were still in a one-possession game (73-70) with 33 seconds left.
Davis expects to have Lane back for Tuesday night’s game at West Division favorite Toledo (9-7, 1-2). Davis also thinks McKay should be ready to go in Saturday’s home game against defending MAC champion Buffalo (10-6, 1-2).
The Chippewas are averaging 84.4 points -- second nationally to Gonzaga’s 87.8 -- and shooting 45.1 percent from the field, making 34.3 percent from 3-point range.
Davis can’t wait to get McKay back on the floor, especially since he is averaging 15.4 points and 6.1 rebounds, shooting 66.4 percent from the field.
“He had a great start to the season and he’s day-to-day, so I’m not sure if he’ll play tomorrow, but it shouldn’t be anything that keeps him out for an extended period of time,” Davis said Monday. “Our point guard (Lane) got hurt early in the second half and our post player (Rob Montgomery) rolled his ankle and we still had a chance late in the game (at Kent State).”
Davis has high praise for McKay, who provides an inside game with the Chippewas showcasing multiple perimeter players, led by David DiLeo (13.8 points, 40 3-pointers) and Morgan (13.2 points, 45 3-pointers).
“I think he’s always been a guy who has been our best defensive player and he’s a stat stuffer where he gets steals, and he can lead you in rebounds and he can lead you in scoring,” said Davis of McKay, who is from Warren De La Salle.
McKay’s field-goal percentage of 66.4 is No. 1 in the nation for guards and No. 6 among all players.
“Northern Illinois was playing a bigger player on him and playing a guard on DiLeo as a shooter, so he (McKay) was finding a mismatch that he was using with his athleticism and his driving ability to go around him.
“Regardless of what teams try to do to him, he’s got different things that he can go to on the offensive end.”
Lane, a junior college transfer, has come in and played well at the point guard spot while replacing Larry Austin, a grad transfer from Vanderbilt who played one year for the Chippewas. Lane is averaging 9.2 points and four assists.
“Lane has always been a winner, someone who does whatever is necessary to get his team to win,” Davis said. “He can lead the team in assists, get to the free-throw line, be a physical guard defensively. He’s completely focused on trying to win games. I know the guys like playing alongside him.”
The Chips are shooting 34.3 percent on 3-pointers this season with the deeper line. Last season they shot 37.1 percent.
“I think you’re seeing around the country that the 3-point line in the short term has had an impact,” Davis said. “I credit our guys. In the offseason the whole team worked on their 3-point shot. The guys have worked hard at it and we’ve got good to very good shooters, and it probably doesn’t affect them as much as marginal shooters.”
EMU looking for first MAC win
Eastern Michigan (10-6, 0-3) will try to end its three-game slide when it hosts Ball State (9-7, 2-1 West) Tuesday.
The Eagles, who have lost five of their last six, are struggling while defending the perimeter, allowing MAC opponents to shoot 47.7 percent from 3-point range (31-of-65).
The Eagles lost to Northern Illinois 71-68 Saturday, coming back from an 18-point second-half deficit to make it a one possession game.
WMU happy to be home
Western Michigan (8-8, 1-2) will stay at home this week, facing Bowling Green (11-5, 2-1 East) Tuesday and Kent State Saturday after losing a pair of road games in MAC action last week – 84-69 at Akron and 67-59 at Toledo.
Toledo used a 27-12 run in the second half to take control, building a 59-44 lead from which the Broncos could not recover.
Junior guard Michael Flowers (Southfield) is averaging 17.5 points (19.3 in MAC play) while shooting 47.3 percent from 3-point range.
Junior forward Brandon Johnson, who missed all of last season, is averaging 17.3 points and 7.3 rebounds in conference play.
The Broncos are 6-1 at home this season.