Senior Kyle Randall did not score a point for the men’s basketball team in the first half against Idaho State Saturday at the Jon M. Huntsman Center.
But head coach Keno Davis’ confidence in him was unwavering as he let Randall score his eighth point of the second half from 18 feet with a half second to go to give Central Michigan a 54-52 win over the Bengals.
“He’s the guy I have the most confidence in,” Davis said. “Whether it’s at the free-throw line, whether it’s taking that shot or making the right pass, because of his experience and the type of player he is.”
ISU had the ball with less than a minute to go, but freshman Chris Fowler stole it with the game tied up to give the Chippewas one last possession with 35 seconds left.
Davis said Randall was given the chance to shoot a pull-up jumper off a ball screen, or, if ISU played help defense, he would pass to a teammate in the corner.
Randall said it was a moment that he had not experienced since high school.
“It’s just like in the gym,” he said. “Just take my time, stay calm, be confident and knock it down.”
Randall led in assists with four and only gave up one turnover. He made two of his nine field goal attempts.
It appeared CMU was breaking away at the start of the second half, when Kyle Randall contributed on a 12-2 run, with his first six points of the game from a layup and four free-throws, to give the team a 37-27 lead.
But guard Chris Hansen, the leading scorer for ISU with 12 points, made two critical three-pointers down the stretch to keep the Bengals in it.
He made a three to conclude a Bengals 7-0 run to make it 41-39 with 9:22 left.
ISU, staying within striking distance, finally tied the game at 48 with a Hansen three, four minutes later.
Olivier Mbaigoto made one of two free-throws with 4:19 left that amounted to one of five lead changes the rest of the game.
Freshman Derrick Richardson Jr. had two chances to give CMU the lead when the score was 52-51 in the last two minutes of the game, but missed the front end of both one-and-one opportunities from the free-throw line.
Simons tied the game by making one of two from the free-throw line with 1:09 remaining. The team finished 45.5 percent from the free-throw line, making 10 of 22 attempts.
At the beginning of the game, it appeared ISU’s 7-foot-4 center Jakub Kusmieruk was going to give the Chippewas trouble.
He was unleashed against height-less CMU and scored the first five points of the game.
“We have to learn how to minimize advantages like that,” Davis said. “It took us a little bit to figure out what Idaho State was doing, and I give our guys credit that they were able to minimize the amount of those inside touches.”
Kusmieruk did not have a rebound coming in and only grabbed two for the night. He played 18 minutes and scored seven points.
Blake Hibbitts and Mbaigoto had every point for the Chippewas early, until John Simons made a three to give CMU the 17-14 lead.
Hibbitts led the team in scoring with 12 points. Mbaigoto was second with 11 points.
Hibbitts, a three-point specialist, made four of eight three-point attempts after he made just two of nine threes in his first two games in Utah.
CMU won its first game in the Utah Thanksgiving Tournament in another close game, 59-55, against Wright State Wednesday.
“You always get better from those experiences (late in the game),” Davis said. “It’s just nicer and more enjoyable when you get better from the wins.”
The Chippewas lost to Utah 67-51 Friday.
“My goal was for us to have great intensity throughout three games in a four-day period, and, if we had that kind of intensity, we could only get better,” Davis said. “I felt like we did.”
CMU finished 2-1 at the holiday tournament, and will take on Bradley at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at McGuirk Arena.