Rebounding was an issue for Central Michigan in its last game against Olivet College when it was out-rebounded by the Division III school 47-33.
It was a different story Wednesday night when the Chippewas out-rebounded Wright State to open up the Utah Thanksgiving Tournament with a 59-55 win.
CMU outplayed the Raiders on the boards 40-29, and had 13 offensive rebounds to help hand them their first loss of the season.
“Our fans that came to our Olivet game probably think it’s a misprint that we could out-rebound anybody by double figures,” head coach Keno Davis said. “We know what we’ve got and I told them before the game, ‘however good we can become this year, is going to come down to rebounding’.”
The Chippewas used clutch plays at the end of the game to put WSU away.
With nine seconds left and a 57-55 lead, the Raiders had a layup opportunity to tie the game from freshman forward Tavares Sledge, who had not scored yet in the game.
Thanks to freshman forward Blake Hibbitts, Sledge remained scoreless after a blocked shot.
“There were so many big time plays for us tonight,” Davis said. “With young teams, you have find ways to win games, and we made enough big plays to win it.”
Following the block, CMU inbounded the ball to freshman guard Derrick Richardson Jr., who was fouled. After a lengthy debate on how much time was to be put back on the clock, he remained focused and sealed the win by hitting both free-throws for his only two points of the game.
“We’re still learning what we have on this team, who are the big players to make the big shots at the end of the game, and (Richardson) might not have been that guy coming, that we thought,” Davis said. “But he hit a couple clutch ones, and he wasn’t fazed.”
The Chippewas had not been successful against WSU in recent history. Last season, they lost in Dayton, Ohio 60-42. The previous season they were beat 53-49 in McGuirk Arena.
CMU last beat the Raiders in 2008, but the team starts this holiday tournament with the win and will be back in action against the host Utah at 7 p.m. on Friday after a break for Thanksgiving.
“Our guys will enjoy Thanksgiving a little more tomorrow with a win,” Davis said. “Our assistant coaches have been working on Utah, and we’ll get a chance to see them in person.”