It was not easy for men’s basketball head coach Keno Davis to earn his first win in the Mid-American Conference.
But, with senior guard Kyle Randall leading the way, he got it, 73-67, against Bowling Green Wednesday at McGuirk Arena.
Randall had a McGuirk Arena-record 31 points and 13 free-throws made, helping Central Michigan avoid a meltdown in the second half and raise its record to 8-6 and 1-0 in the MAC.
“We would obviously not be where we are without (Randall),” Davis said. “When you’ve got a guy that’s leading the MAC in free-throw percentage, and a guy that can put it on the floor, and you have to guard (him from the three-point line), he’s been our go-to guy.”
Davis said he told fans, students, and alumni before the season that there would be many highs and lows throughout the season, and it was all on display in a single game.
“You saw how good we can be when we’re doing well,” he said. ”You can also see, with a young team, when we hit a tough stretch we struggle.”
The Chippewas had a 49-26 lead after a three-point play by Randall, but shots started to drop for the Falcons and CMU’s offense floundered, allowing BGSU to go on a 28-6 run to narrow the lead to one with 7:57 to go.
The Falcons made five-of-nine three-pointers and 58 percent of their field goals in the second half, while the Chippewas made 33 percent of their shots in the second half.
After BGSU eventually tied the game at 60 with 3:25 to go, senior forward Olivier Mbaigoto made two free-throws and slammed the ball from a missed shot to give CMU a 64-60 lead.
“(Mbaigoto), in his last four or five halves of basketball, has played really well,” Davis said. “And he’s being asked to go against someone that has 40 or 50 pounds on him and three inches.”
Randall delivered the nail in the coffin.
The Falcons brought it back within three points twice at the end of the game, but, Randall extended the lead back to five on both occasions, with free-throws.
He did not miss from the free-throw line in the game.
“We work on them every day. We have a lot of free-throw competitions,” Randall said. “So, I take a lot of pride in free-throws and every time I miss one, I get a hard time for it, so I try not to do that. It’s definitely not easy, especially late in the game.”
In the first half, the Chippewas appeared to be pulling away after sophomore guard Austin Keel triggered a 13-0 run to make it 21-8 after he shot-faked from the three-point line, drove to the basket, and passed it to a wide-open Derrick Richardson Jr. for a corner three about seven minutes into the game.
CMU made BGSU leave its feet often with shot fakes in the first half.
It all started when Randall pump faked and made a running-jumper, feet away from the hoop, for the first basket of the game.
Randall and the Chippewas will look to go 2-0 in the MAC when they play at 7 p.m. Saturday in Toledo.