Kevin McKay is thrilled to be back on the court again, and he helped Central Michigan earn an 85-78 win over rival Western Michigan in Kalamazoo Saturday, putting the Chippewas atop the Mid-American Conference West Division standings.
When McKay is healthy, he is one of the premier players in the MAC and gives the Chippewas (12-8, 5-2) a legitimate chance to win the MAC title to play in the NCAA Tournament. They will host MAC East leader Bowling Green (17-5, 8-1) Tuesday before playing at two-time defending MAC champion Buffalo (14-8, 5-4 East) Friday.
McKay, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound senior, leads the Chips in scoring (15.4) and rebounding (6.7) and is fifth in the nation in shooting percentage (.671), tops among guards.
McKay made 9 of 12 shots from the field Saturday, contributing 19 points and 12 rebounds in the win over the Broncos.
“It’s my last year here and I haven’t really won anything meaningful yet, so the focus this year is winning as many games possible, and to do that I’m taking more shots,” said McKay, who played his high school ball at Warren De La Salle.
CMU ranks third nationally in scoring (82.4), and with David DiLeo (13.9 points, 37 percent 3-pointers) and Dallas Morgan (13.5, 36.4) getting things done from the perimeter, it is McKay doing the bulk of the damage attacking the basket.
“For me, I’ve worked on my shot, but that’s not the strength of my game and we have enough shooters, so we definitely need a guy who can get to the basket and get shooter’s space,” McKay said. “Last year we had Larry Austin, who was great at getting to the rim and finding open shooters. But without him other people had to step up and attack the basket and I’m just trying to fill that role.”
McKay is a fierce rebounder despite being 6-5.
“I’m just trying to get us extra possessions,” he said. “Our tallest guys play at 6-7 or 6-8 and we’re going up against people 6-11 on any given night, so on a team like this you need everyone to rebound. So I’m just trying to attack the boards on offense and defense.
“And because we’re not very big we have an advantage running up and down the court on fast breaks when we do rebound, so just that and pushing the pace of the game helps us put more points on the board. We have a lot of players on this team that can score and go off on any night, so when we have those two things both clicking at the same time, it’s hard to stop us.”
With Austin now gone, junior Devontae Lane has taken over at point guard with 6-4 junior guard Deschon Winston also playing well at the point in a backup role. Winston scored 18 in 27 minutes against WMU, making 5-of-9 shots, including both of his 3-pointers.
“He’s been great this year, definitely a different point guard than Larry was, but has been great facilitating the ball, getting to the rim and leadership abilities,” said McKay of Lane. “I feel everyone on the team respects his game. It’s huge to have a guy like Winston too. He’s going to have the ball the majority of the time when he’s in. He’s always in attack mode; there’s no break or drop-off when he comes in.”
The win at WMU was big for the Chippewas, who have a shot to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003, when Chris Kaman led them to the MAC tournament championship and a win over Creighton in the NCAAs.
“It was definitely a huge win, especially in a rivalry game,” McKay said. “We’re trying to make noise in the MAC this year and to do that we’re going to have to win as many away games as we can.
“I think we have a great chance to win the MAC, and if there’s any year to do it, it’s definitely this year, especially with the fact we have so many seniors and juniors on this team. This is a huge week; Bowling Green is a great team and we want to put the MAC on notice that we’re legit. We lost to Buffalo already this year and that left a bad taste in our mouth, so we want to go to their place and beat them.”
McKay has recovered from a hand injury that sidelined him for three games last month.
“I’m feeling good,” he said. “I have to tape up my hand still every game, but it feels a lot better.”
Western Michigan (9-12, 2-6) has lost three straight and six of its last seven heading into Tuesday night’s game at Miami (9-12, 2-6).
The Broncos have struggled with their shooting, making just 42.3 percent of their shots from the field and 32.4 percent on 3-pointers. In the loss to CMU, they did make 11-of-26 3-pointers (42.3 percent) but just 15-of-23 free throws.
WMU will host Ball State (12-9, 5-3 West) Saturday.
EMU’s first MAC win
Eastern Michigan (11-10, 1-7) was the last MAC team to earn a conference victory when the Eagles defeated preseason West Division favorite Toledo (11-11, 3-6) Saturday, 61-57, with Yelkson Montero scoring a season-high 26 to help end their seven-game losing streak.
Boubacar Toure had a double-double (12 points, 16 rebounds) for the Eagles, who had 10 steals and rank No. 1 nationally in that department at 10.9.
EMU will host Buffalo Tuesday.