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Chastain: Men's basketball team gritty, showing areas of improvement


Junior guard Deschon Winston (11, right) dribbles the basketball against Miami (Ohio) on Jan. 4 in McGuirk Arena. 

Northern Illinois pushed ahead by 12 points over Central Michigan with 13:11 to play Jan. 7 in McGuirk Arena. 

Tyler Cochran had scored a layup following a turnover from CMU junior guard Devontae Lane to take a 51-41 lead for the Huskies. 

Lane then assisted two 3-pointers from senior forward Rob Montgomery and senior guard Dallas Morgan in the next 58 seconds of game action.

NIU's lead was cut to six with 12:11 to play. 

Slowly but surely, the Chippewas clawed their way back into the Mid-American Conference West Division matchup. CMU found itself trailing by 11 points with 9:12 to play as well and brought itself back into the game again. 

Lane brought the Chippewa deficit down to just one point with a free throw as nine seconds remained on the game clock. 

Zaire Mateen was fouled and stepped to the free throw line with five seconds to play. He had a chance to put his team ahead by as many as three, forcing the Chippewas to hit a triple to force overtime. 

He missed. 

Senior forward David DiLeo secured the rebound and passed to Lane, who brought the ball to the other end of the floor at a full sprint. 

Lane moved to the left wing and fired a pass to senior guard Kevin McKay, who rolled toward the basket and made a layup to give CMU the 68-67 lead with .2 seconds remaining.

The lead was the Chippewas' first lead of the second half.

CMU went on to win the game by a point after trailing by double digits with under 10 minutes to play. With the Chippewas winning that game, they showed a lot of mental toughness to battle all the way back and pick up their ninth victory of the season. 

The Chippewas were similar last season — gritty. 

Many times in the 2018-19 season, especially in MAC play, Central Michigan had to find a way to dig deep and find a way to win similar to how it did against the Huskies. 

One game from last season which sticks out was Feb. 26 at Eastern Michigan. 

CMU went into the EMU Convocation Center and found out guard Shawn Roundtree Jr., one of the emotional leaders of the team,  was not going to play due to an injury. 

Eastern Michigan featured a strong 2-3 defense which slowed Central Michigan's shooting in the first half, making just nine field goals without one of the team's best shooters in Roundtree. 

The Chippewas were also outrebounded in the game's first half, 23-11, but only lost the battle on the boards, 36-32. 

"Even though the numbers weren't very good with rebounding, defense and offense," CMU coach Keno Davis said after the win last year. "It felt like that game was still in reach and if we could play better in those areas, this game would come down to the wire."

Last year's team was gritty and wouldn't be out of a game. It made its way to the semifinal in the MAC Tournament, battling a No. 16-ranked Buffalo team to the wire, ultimately losing by four points after the Bulls made late free throws. 

This year's team has a lot of the similar characteristics as its predecessor, but there is a lot of room for growth and improvement for the Chippewas. 

CMU ranks eighth in the MAC in 3-point percentage (33 percent) and field goals made (149) and ranks worst in the MAC in 3-point defense (37 percent). 

In terms of rebounding, the Chippewas are sixth in the conference with 688 total rebounds (38.2 per game), which is an area they can continue to improve as the conference season goes along. 

At the end of the day, success for the Chippewas goes back to playing true to their identity of intensity. Especially in the competitive MAC.  

"We go into every game knowing we're not going to back down," said senior forward Rob Montgomery. "No matter the circumstance, no matter the situation we're in. We're going to bring the intensity on the defensive end, let other teams know we're going to defend them and get after it. 

"That's what we shoot for, no matter how the game is going, no matter how we're playing or whatever the situation may be."