The game was supposed to be awful. The Mid-American Conference's two worst teams, Ball State and Central Michigan, entered their head-to-head match up a combined 2-22 in MAC play entering Wednesday night. But midway through the second half it started to became clear that what was supposed to be a grueling match up was far from it. By the end of the third overtime, with Central Michigan walking away with a 101-95 win in hand, it was crystal clear.
Having went back and forth, much to the displeasure of this blogger, for two overtimes, Central Michigan point guard Chris Fowler bricked a 3-pointer sending the game into a third overtime tied at 85 apiece. Enter Braylon Rayson, the Chippewas freshman guard.
Through the first 50 minutes of game time, Rayson managed 19 points. When the clock started rolling in the third extra stanza though, you would have though he had been draining buckets all game long. With Fowler sitting at four fouls, and Austin Stewart and Blake Hibbits both having already fouled out (each scoring 17 before exiting the game) Rayson stepped into the role of of game-changer, ending a seemingly endless game. He scored the first point of the third overtime on a free throw, then scored the next eight CMU points over the next three minutes, running the Chips' lead up to 96-89 with 1:22 to go.
He was unstoppable, draining shots from every corner of the floor, and attacking a Ball State defense without Zavier Turner (who fouled out early in the third OT) and forward Majok Majok who suffered a knee injury in the second overtime. Rayson added a pair of free throws at the 10 second mark to ice the Chips win and seal his career day.
Of course this never would have happened had Ball State hung onto its early lead. The Cardinals entered halftime up eight having attacked CMU's weak front court successful. Ball State carried that momentum into the second half, never letting the Chips draw within closer than five. That was until the final stretch of the second-half.
Turner drained a 3-pointer at the 10-minute mark (one of his three on the night; he finished with 20 points, five rebounds and four assists) to give the Cards a nine-point lead. A little over six minutes later, CMU had tied the game at 58-all. In trouble of blowing the game, Chris Bond stepped up for Ball State.
The senior forward seven of his 21 points on the evening in a two-minute period to give Ball State a five-point lead with 1:49 to go. A pair of Turner free throws 15 seconds later gave BSU a comfortable seven point lead, and the momentum. Then hell set in for the Cardinals. With just 43 seconds left, and down seven points, CMU rattled off an 11-4 run, sending the game into overtime on a 3-pointer from Hibbits with nine seconds left in regulation.
With both teams having fairly successful nights from the floor (CMU shot 46 percent, Ball State 44) it was ultimately the superior sharpshooting from the Chippewas that did the Cardinals in as CMU managed to hit 41 percent from behind the arc, while BSU's 3-point heavy offense hit just 27 percent.
In the first overtime the two squads traded blows, with Bond coming through with the final points of the extra stanza when he drained an easy layup with 34 seconds left. The seconds OT was more of the same, except that BSU managed all two of its eight points in the second OT on free throws, while CMU managed more success from the field, including a clutch 3-pointer from John Simmons (who had 13 points on the night, while going 3-for-8 from behind the arc and adding five rebounds).
But once again Bond, who had a game-high 12 boards to go along with his offensive output, came through, forcing his way inside and scoring the final points of the second OT on a tough layup with 1:19 left. But Bond was invisible in the third OT, and with Turner and Majok out, the Cardinals had no answer for Rayson's hot hand.
Fowler finished second on CMU's roster with 18 points, but was anemic from the field, going 7-for-22 on the night. He did notch 12 assists and three steals, securing himself a double-double in the win. Stewart led CMU with 10 boards. John Simmons was the only other Chippewa to score in double figures, notching 13 points in the win. Shockingly, CMU's bench managed just six points on the night.
For Ball State, besides Bond and Turner, Jesse Berry and freshman Franko House were the only other Cardinals to score in double figures with 19 and 12 respectively. House added eight rebounds and a block as well. BSU had limited, but noticeable production from its bench due in large part to foul trouble and the injury to Majok.
The win moved the Chippewas out of their tie with Ball State for last place, and gave them their second conference win, both in overtime. With games against EMU and Toledo still left, plus a contest against a much improved NIU squad on Sunday, it's looking like CMU's best chance at a third conference win will come in its rematch vs Ball State on March 1.
For Ball State the loss marked its first since their first season under former head coach Billy Taylor in 2007-2008. That year the Cardinals finished the season 6-24. With five games left, three against the top three squads in the east (two of the top teams in the conference) the Cardinals could find it near impossible to bounce back from this collapse. They do get another shot against CMU on March 1, which is about their best hope at getting a fifth win on the year.