Road rivalry: Central Michigan seeks fifth straight win over Western Michigan
Beating a rival once is tough. Beating the same team twice in one season is difficult. Beating one team, especially a rival, three times in one season, is a cause for celebration.
Central Michigan beat Western Michigan by 21 on Feb. 2, 2019, and by seven in Read Fieldhouse on March 8 to earn a regular-season sweep of its chief rival.
Three days after the second matchup, the Chippewas and Broncos played a third time in the Mid-American Conference Tournament on March 11 in McGuirk Arena.
Larry Austin Jr. and Shawn Roundtree Jr. led the way by scoring over 20 points and the Chippewas went on to take down the Broncos, 81-67, in the first round before advancing to the semifinal and falling to eventual champion Buffalo.
"When you play a rival, all records go out the window," Austin said after the postseason game. "You just have to be ready to play at all times."
Fast forward to 2020, the Chippewas are tied for first place in the MAC West standings with Ball State at 4-2 while the Broncos are 2-5 in conference play. WMU is second-to-last in the West Division standings.
CMU won its last game, 71-66, over Ball State on Jan. 25 in McGuirk Arena. Meanwhile, the Broncos lost their second straight game with a 58-52 setback at Northern Illinois, a team the Chippewas defeated earlier in the season.
In 20 games this season, the Broncos have the worst scoring margin in the MAC at (-1.6) by scoring 71.4 points per game and allowing 73.1 points per game.
Statistically speaking, WMU is the worst rebounding team in the conference. The Broncos average the fewest rebounds per game (34.7), fewest offensive rebounds per game (9.1) rebounding margin (-3.9) and allow the most rebounds per game (38.5).
For comparison's sake, CMU has the fourth-best scoring margin in the conference at an average of 6.3 points per game, while averaging 82.3 points per game — good for sixth in the country.
Individually for the Broncos, guard Michael Flowers leads the team with 17.7 points per game and is the best 3-point shooter on the team at 38 percent.
Another leader for WMU is forward Brandon Johnson. He is the other scorer who averages in double figures for the Broncos with 15.1 points per game. Johnson leads the team with 161 rebounds, averaging 8.1 per game, he also leads the team with 18 blocks.
Central Michigan coach Keno Davis said his team needs to have a focus to prevent Flowers and Johnson from putting up big numbers as they can score in a hurry.
"We have to defend," Davis said. "This years' team has the ability to win some games on the defensive end and they have some extremely talented players that can score in multiple ways. We have to be ready to have that intensity on the defensive side of the ball."
The Chippewas have won just one game away from home this season when they took down Toledo, 74-67, on Jan. 14. Central Michigan is 1-7 on the road.
In the nonconference season, the Chippewas played several teams that have found success in the NCAA Tournament and other notable tournaments.
CMU played Minnesota, Depaul, Valparaiso, Texas, Robert Morris and Purdue on the road — all losses.
Despite losing in the nonconference and the first Mid-American Conference road game at Kent State, Davis said his team played well and was overall pleased with the performances away from McGuirk Arena.
"Our schedule was really challenging for going on the road," Davis said. "Hopefully those games prepared us for what it's going to take to win on the road in the conference. If we can play with that kind of intensity level for the rest of the season, we're going to have a chance to win every time we step on the court."
For Central Michigan, senior guard Kevin McKay returned to the lineup against Ball State after missing the previous three games with an undisclosed injury.
In the Jan. 25 game at home against the Cardinals, McKay scored 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting and nine rebounds. He played 29 minutes in his return to the Chippewas.
"He wanted to make sure that he didn't rush coming back," Davis said of McKay. "But when he came back he wanted to not be limited. He wanted to make sure that he was right."
Three other Chippewas average more than 10 points per game. Senior forwards David DiLeo and Rob Montgomery average 14.1 and 11 points per game, respectively. Senior guard Dallas Morgan scores 13.6 points per game and shoots 3-pointers at a 40 percent rate.
Junior guard Devontae Lane has been the facilitator for the CMU offense and leads the team with 67 assists. Lane also averages 9.6 points per game to round out the top five in terms of scoring averages.
After the Chippewas' strong defensive effort against the Cardinals, Davis said he was happy to see the effort and wants to see it again against the Broncos.
"(There's) a lot of different things that we can be good at on any given night," Davis said. "It's always, for a coach, more enjoyable when you do it on the half-court defensive end."
Dating back to 1908, the Chippewas and Broncos have played 155 times. WMU leads the all-time series, 98-57.
CMU and WMU play for the 156th time at 2 p.m. Feb. 1 at WMU's Read Fieldhouse in Kalamazoo.