The game plan for the Central Michigan Chippewas tonight was simple. Launch some three pointers, let Chris Fowler do his thing, and then get back to the hotel for some rest. Mission accomplished!
The Chippewas, the Mid-American Conference Tournament's number one seed, dispatched the fourth-seeded Toledo Rockets, 75-66 in the semifinals of the MAC Tournament in Cleveland on Friday night.
The Chips (23-7) advance to Saturday night's championship game at Quicken Loan Arena where they'll face the winner of the other semifinal between Akron and Buffalo.
The tempo and pace of the game was just about how Central Michigan head coach Keno Davis would have drawn it up. To nobody's surprise, the Chippewas came out raining 3's from the get-go. They built an early lead and seemed to have the Rockets on their heels the entire game. Chris Fowler had 14 first half points as the Chips had a 33-26 lead at halftime.
It certainly felt like Central Michigan was in complete control in the first half, but when the horn sounded and you looked at the scoreboard, their lead was only seven points. As bad as the Rockets were playing, with eight first half turnovers, you thought they might be able to make a run in the second half.
Well that run never came. The second half started much like the first, with a Central Michigan spurt. The Chips went on a 13-3 run to take a 46-29 lead just two minutes into the second half. The Rockets would cut the lead back to seven points with 10 minutes to play but that was about as close to a threat as they would mount the rest of the way.
Fowler and John Simons seemed to control the game for Central Michigan during every key stretch. Fowler finished with 26 points and a team high five assists, and thoroughly outplayed Toledo's Juice Brown in this game. Fowler was 12 of 17 from the field, while Brown had only 13 points...with several of those coming after the game had been decided. Brown shot only 5 of 17 from the field and this game was reminiscent of the two team's first matchup this season when Brown score just seven points in a loss to the Chips.
Simons finished with 23 points for Central Michigan, while Braylon Rayson added 14. The Chippewas only committed five turnovers the entire game, which is even more remarkable when you consider the pace at which they play.
Davis said his team has surprised almost everyone this year. "This is a team that won only three conference games last year and were picked to finish eleventh in the preseason," said Davis. "All but one of the players on our roster had never played in Cleveland before. I think we surpassed everyone's expectations except those of us in Mount Pleasant."
"Sometimes coaches worry about whether the moment is too big for his players," continue Davis. "But I can't say that about these guys."
Seniors Justin Drummond and J.D. Weatherspoon led the Rockets in scoring with 17 points apiece. Nathan Boothe was the only other Rocket to score in double figures with 11. Weatherspoon pulled down 13 rebounds to lead Toledo to a 38-27 advantage on the boards.
The Rockets finish the season at 20-13 and will wait to see if they'll get a bid to postseason play.