The more things change, the more they stay the same. The couple of hundred fans in McGuirk Arena on Sunday afternoon saw a Central Michigan team with some new faces, but a lot of the same problems. The 2014-15 Chippewas were able to come away with the exhibition victory, but it was far from a convincing performance.
To say the Chips looked lackluster would be an understatement. Saginaw Valley State is not a terrible team, but the Chips should have had a huge talent and size advantage. If there was an advantage, it was not on display this afternoon.
CMU got off to a slow start in the first half and we're trailing 12-13 after the first seven minutes of play. A Braylon Rayson 3-pointer provided a spark and the Chips went on a 12-2 run and would hold the lead for the rest of the first half.
Despite the slow start, the Chippewas actually played fairly well in the first half, particularly the last 12 minutes. At the break CMU lead the Cardinals 40-31 and had the advantage in almost every meaningful statistical category. Not surprisingly, Chris Fowler led all scorers with 14 first half points. Braylon Rayson trailed Fowler with nine points.
The 2nd half would not go so smoothly for the Chippewas. If anyone from Central had the shooting touch, it went away after halftime. Defensive miscues, compounded with shooting troubles not only allowed SVSU back into the game, but gave them a 59-58 lead with under five minutes to go.
It was the defense of Central that would step up down the stretch. SVSU only scored two points in the last five minutes which allowed the Chips to come away with a 68-61 victory.
This was not a particularly entertaining basketball game. The second half in particular seemed to be an endless comedy of missed free throws, turnovers, and missed shots. Perhaps the most exciting moment was when the referee stopped the play and doubled over because he threw his back out. Thankfully the zebra did a few stretches and was able to continue calling fouls which wouldn't lead to any points due to the fact that neither team could sink a free throw.
Despite the struggles. there were a couple of bright spots for the Chippewas. The obvious bright spots were guards Chris Fowler and Braylon Rayson. Fowler finished the game with 19 points, 6 boards, and 3 assists. Rayson led all scorers with 23 points and somehow, despite being by-far the smallest player on both teams, led all players with 9 rebounds.
DaRohn Scott also made an important impact on the game. The Freshman power-forward recorded four blocks in his first collegiate game included a couple of emphatic rejections that managed to get the often quiet McGuirk crown on their feet. Scott did seem to disappear on offense however as he only scored two points, which came on a powerful slam dunk.
Overall the Chippewas do not look ready for the season. SVSU looked quicker and more composed at times. Saginaw Valley dominated the fast break point category as CMU often looked slow getting back on defense. There were also many times throughout the game when the Chips seemed disorganized or even confused on offense. Free throw shooting too continues to be an issue for Central. Getting to the line was easy for CMU, making the shots however seemed almost impossible at times. CMU shot 17-32 at the charity stripe, while shooting only 6-for-17 from the line in the second half.
Exhibition games are not always indicative of how a team will play once the regular season starts. The intensity will be higher and the fact that the games matter will make a team play better. It is clear however that Keno Davis and his staff have some severe dents to hammer out before the regular season starts, or else it could be another long season for the Chippewas.