Motivated Chippewas Topple NIU

February 24, 2016 | Written By: Andy Sneddon

MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. – In a two-minute span early in the second half, Central Michigan’s lead shrunk from nine points to one.

Then, CMU coach Keno Davis was hit with a technical foul, his first in more than two seasons. Northern Illinois made the free throws awarded it on the technical, completing a 10-0 run that gave the Huskies a 43-42 lead.

That lead, NIU’s one and only of the game, lasted all of 22 seconds.

John Simons made two free throws to put CMU back on top, 44-43, and the Chippewas never trailed again as they went on to post a 76-64 Mid-American Conference men’s basketball victory over Northern Illinois at McGuirk Arena, improving to 15-13 overall, 8-7 MAC.

“I definitely think something like (a technical) can make a team play harder,” said Simons, who scored 17 points – his season-high in a MAC game – and grabbed a team-high eight rebounds. “Regardless if that happened or not, they were tightening up (the game).

“We knew that we had to rev it back up and get our energy level back up. … Sometimes things like that can fire a team up.”

The Chippewas are tied for second place in the West Division with Toledo, one game behind Ball State. The Cardinals lost, 77-67, Tuesday at Toledo.

Chris Fowler added 16 points and seven assists for the Chippewas, while Josh Kozinski had 15 points, and Braylon Rayson added 10 as the Chippewas held off the Huskies, who continued to charge and remained within a stride or two until the waning moments.

“I probably deserved (the technical) and I wasn’t using it to try to get our guys’ energy going,” Davis said. “I was frustrated at the time and was trying to get that message across.

“I was OK being able to do that and get the technical foul because I knew that my team wouldn’t react poorly. They wouldn’t be disrupted by it. I didn’t know if it would give them something, it wasn’t part of the plan. I knew with our senior leadership and the experience that we have on the team that might not help them, but it wasn’t going to hurt them and it’s nice to have a team that you don’t have to worry about getting disrupted when something doesn’t go exactly as planned.”

Planned or not, intentional or not, it worked. Simons and Kozinski stepped on the accelerator, combining to make six of their nine triple tries in the second half. They teamed to finish 8-for-14 from long range for the game.

While the Chippewas had regained the lead on Simon’s post-technical free throws, they never could get comfortable. Their lead remained in single digits until a Kozinski 3-pointer with 3:49 left put them up, 70-60. NIU (18-10, 7-8) never got closer than nine the rest of the way.

CMU made nine of its 11 second-half free throw attempts and finished 12-for-16 from the charity stripe for the game.

Marin Maric and Travon Baker scored 10 points apiece for NIU, which has lost three straight. Maric grabbed 11 rebounds for his seventh consecutive double-double. Maric and Baker combined for 31 points in NIU’s 75-70 victory over CMU five weeks ago. Levi Bradley had 14 points for the Huskies in that game. He finished with seven on Tuesday.

“Defensively we’ve been up and down this year,” Davis said. “Some of that is about matchups, some about execution. I think as we see teams for a second time, and maybe a third time as we go, there shouldn’t be anything that we see that we haven’t prepared for.

“It then comes down to, Are we good enough to be able to stop teams? Some nights we have been.”

The Huskies entered the game holding opponents to 66.6 points per game. The Chippewas finished the game shooting 44.3 percent from the floor (they were making 44.6 percent for the season before Tuesday’s contest), and they made enough timely buckets – and got enough defensive stops -- to keep the Huskies at bay.

“They’re a great defensive team,” Fowler said. “There’s no easy baskets, no easy layups. They challenge everything. You know it’s going to be tough each time you see that team.”

The Chippewas play at Toledo on Saturday, at Ball State next Tuesday, and close the regular season at home on Friday, March 4, against Western Michigan.

“We get excited the same amount for every game and play it is as if it’s a championship game as we always do,” Fowler said. “We’re going to play hard and play together and let everything else take care of itself.”

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