Men's basketball earns first ever postseason win in 2017-18 season
After starting with an 11-2 record, Central Michigan men's basketball fans had high hopes for the Chippewas in conference play.
The Chippewas already had the Great Alaska Shootout Championship, and seemed destined to prove the doubters wrong after being picked to finish last in the Mid-American Conference.
Then MAC play started.
After winning the conference opener on Jan. 2 against Ohio, CMU lost six of its next seven MAC games.
In the next eight-game stretch, CMU only found three wins. Suddenly, the Chippewas were fighting for a No. 9 seed in the MAC Tournament.
Finally, CMU started winning again. The Chippewas won both games to finish the regular season and earned a home MAC Tournament game in McGuirk Arena for the first time in history.
The No. 8 seed CMU topped No. 9 Bowling Green 81-77 in overtime. The Chippewas advanced to Cleveland for the MAC Tournament.
Since they were the No. 8 seed, the Chippewas faced eventual-champion Buffalo in the second round of the tournament. CMU couldn't catch up after giving up an early lead, falling 89-74.
Following the MAC Tournament exit, CMU decided to extend their season in the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament. The Chippewas beat Fort Wayne 94-89 in the first round to earn the program’s first postseason victory since 2003 in the NCAA Tournament.
CMU downed Wofford in the second round and advanced to the quarterfinal game against Liberty.
Liberty ended the Chippewas' season with a 84-71 win on March 24.
“We just didn't want things to end with this group and I think they made the most of this opportunity to play in the (CIT),” said head coach Keno Davis. “This group of seniors is a pretty special one and were going to miss having their presence on a daily basis.”
Senior guard Josh Kozinski reflected on his career after his final game in a Chippewa uniform.
“The moral is high, we’ve got a great high character team and I couldn't be more proud than to play for this university,” Kozinski said. “Right now, I think I’m more thankful for just being here. It’s a blessing.”
Kozinski has a program-record 306 all-time 3-pointers. He scored his 1,000th point in the final game against Liberty.
A game to remember
The top game for the Chippewas this past season goes beyond the court.
CMU prepared to play its final game of the regular season on March 2 against its rival Western Michigan. A win would propel them to a home MAC Tournament game on Senior Night.
Instead, the team had to make some adjustments.
After a shooting on campus, the postseason-deciding game was rescheduled to be played at Northwood University, closed to the public. Only families, teams and security personnel were let into the building.
The Chippewas beat WMU, 84-71, on March 3 in Riepma Arena in Midland. Transfer guard Shawn Roundtree led the team with 27 points.
“As basketball players, you have to adapt. At this point in our basketball careers, we’ve all had to make adjustments and play early,” Roundtree said. “We have the chance to give the community a sense of hope and the area of Mount Pleasant something to be proud of.
“We wanted to win this game for them.”
Thanks to the win, the Chippewas were able to play at home in the first round of the MAC Tournament.
While the Chippewas will lose three starters from the 2017-18 team (Kozinski, Cecil Williams and Luke Meyer) due to graduation, they have some starting-caliber players returning.
Sophomore guard Kevin McKay — who never started a game for CMU — played the fourth most minutes on the team (27.1). He averaged double figures with 12.2 points per game.
Sophomore forward David DiLeo will also be returning after his second season. He averaged 12.4 points per game (3.9 more points than 2016-17) and led the team in 3-pointers made (96) and rebounds (239).
“We came together when times got tough and didn't quit on each other,” DiLeo said. “We can build off the way we played in (the CIT) and look towards next year.”
Roundtree, a transfer point guard from Mineral Area Community College, will also return for his final year of eligibility. The junior averaged 14.8 points per game and led the team with 151 assists.
CMU also returns role players players Matt Beachler, Matty Smith, Innocent Nwoko, Corey Redman and Gavin Peppers.
This season, CMU achieved its most nonconference wins ever with 11. CMU also led the MAC in free throw shooting at 80.6 percent, the highest percentage under Davis.
The Chippewas played in and won the first-ever MAC Tournament game at McGuirk Arena. This was their first postseason win since 2003 when they beat Creighton in the first round fo the NCAA Tournament.
With 21 wins, this season marked Davis’ fifth consecutive season with a .500 or better record.