Central Michigan head coach Keno Davis held injured senior center Zach Saylor out of the game against Niagara Sunday at McGuirk Arena.
Saylor suffered a knee injury against Bradley on Wednesday after tallying seven minutes on the floor.
As the team’s tallest player, he was averaging 5.3 points and 3.8 rebounds in 19.8 minutes per game this season. Saylor scored a career-high 14 points against Olivet on Nov. 16.
Davis said he did not know when Saylor will return, setting his status as day-to-day.
“We hope for the best and that he will be with us sooner rather than later,” Davis said. “But he’s a guy that, even with not being able to practice with us or play in this game, he’s been a leader for us. He’s talking to the young guys saying, ‘hey, you’ve got to look for this’.”
Freshmen forwards John Simons and Blake Hibbitts had to make up for the loss of Saylor. Early in the game, they did so not by getting points in the paint or grabbing rebounds, but doing what they do best – making three-pointers.
Simons hit a three from the right side for the first basket of the game at 19:08. Hibbitts followed suit a minute later to give CMU a 6-2 lead.
Senior forward Olivier Mbaigoto, who started for Saylor, added two more points, giving the Chippewas a 10-2 lead. He had four rebounds but did not score another point in the game.
After Mbaigoto’s basket, senior Kyle Randall took over the rest of the first half.
He scored in the paint more than any of his taller teammates.
Randall led CMU with 24 points, making seven of his 12 field goal attempts and eight of his nine free-throw attempts.
“We realized we had to be a guard-oriented team,” Davis said. “We had to make sure we penetrated and got to the free-throw line, and that was a huge focus for us – how many free throws can we get?”
The Chippewas gave up 15 offensive rebounds for the game.
Davis said Saylor would have helped because he is a veteran and a big body. However, he did not want to use that as an excuse.
Niagara took a 50-49 lead as a result of getting an offensive rebound in the second half. The Purple Eagles lengthened the lead to four after they missed their second free-throw and tapped it in on an offensive rebound.
Niagara rarely attempted to challenge the inside of the defense of the Chippewas, though they did out-score them in the paint 36-28.
The two tallest players in its starting lineup were 6-foot-7 forward Joe Thomas and 6-foot-6 guard Ameen Tanksley.
When Davis was asked if he was fearful of playing a bigger team without Saylor, Davis said he does not want any player to be held out of a game.
“I’m fearful of not having everybody (who has) been playing,” he said. “We’re a deep team. We have a lot of guys. We need them all.”