Chippewa men look to avoid third straight loss as Kent State comes to town
Devontae Lane knows that, within the scope of a basketball game, not everything is going to fall the way he and his team want it to.
That thought process is relevant when looking at the season as a whole, as the Chippewa men's basketball team dropped both games last week and dipped below the .500 mark on the season.
Now, Lane, a senior guard for CMU (5-6, 1-3 MAC) and his teammates have an opportunity to right the ship against Mid-American Conference foe Kent State at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday in McGuirk Arena.
"When things are going really well for us, we're all good, we're all talking and communicating," Lane said. "Then when things go bad, we just kind of put our heads down and just seem like the game is already over."
The Golden Flashes (4-3, 1-2) are nowhere near a pushover opponent. KSU comes in off an 80-54 home win over Western Michigan and boasts two of the top five players in MAC scoring average.
Senior forward Danny Pippen, one of those two players, missed the WMU game and is uncertain to play Tuesday. Senior guard Michael Nuga, a Portland State transfer who sat last season, is currently fifth in MAC in scoring and scored a season-best 26 points against the Broncos.
To counter Nuga, the Chippewas will need solid defensive play from Lane and Travon Broadway Jr., another senior guard. According to Synergy, Lane is allowing over a point per possession as the on-ball defender, a clip that ranks among the worst in the conference. One area where Lane has excelled, however, is when he defends the ball handler in pick-and-roll situations. In that scenario, he's allowed just four field goals on 20 attempts.
Nuga does a lot as the pick-and-roll ball handler. Nuga has been a formidable scorer and incredibly efficient, turning the ball over just nine times while dishing out 11 assists. He's also taken double digit 3-point attempts in four of the Golden Flashes' seven games, a trend likely to continue against CMU's defense, which ranks 10th against outside shooting.
CMU's porous defense has been the major struggle in conference play. The offense has averaged around 70 points a game in MAC play but was unable to keep up with Bowling Green, which was the preseason conference favorite.
Head coach Keno Davis said his team needs to work on chemistry as the MAC season unfolds.
“We’re only going to get that through experience, and taking a long-term approach is going to be important,” Davis said. "There’s glimpses of some real talent on this year’s team, and it’s going to be great to continue to develop (chemistry) in the future."
Broadway Jr. has emerged as CMU's go-to scorer throughout the season, averaging a team-high 15.7 points per game. Lane, conversely, has struggled to get going offensively. In wins, he's averaging 12.8 points per game. However, in losses, he averages just 7.8 points. An offensive emergence from Lane would be important, as he's shown that he can shoot with the best of them when he gets going.
Defensively, Lane said persevering through opponent runs was something he and his teammates needed to work on following the losses to BGSU.
"If they go on a six, seven-point run, we just put our heads down," Lane said. "Then we start doing things we don't normally do as a team."
KSU's frontcourt could be a matchup problem for the Chippewas. Where CMU likes to play four guards, the Flashes counter with three guards and two bigs in Pippen and senior Justyn Hamilton, who stands six-foot-11. Should Pippen not be able to go, six-foot-seven senior Tervell Beck would start in his place. Though junior forward Meikkel Murray is capable of matching up at six-foot-six, the physicality of Beck or Pippen could cause problems.
Hamilton would draw Chippewa junior forward Malik Muhammad, who will likely make his third-straight start if freshman forward Aundre Polk is unable to go. Hamilton is a traditional big man and does a lot of his work on putbacks. Muhammad should be able to counter Hamilton with his rebounding ability.
A bright spot in the last two games for CMU has been the return of redshirt freshman Caleb Hodgson, scored 15 points -- including a career-high 10 on Saturday -- in the two games against BGSU after missing six games due to injury. Expect him to continue gathering minutes, especially if Polk is out.
Lane said after the loss to Bowling Green that the team needs a change in mindset in tough situations. A step would be countering a 6-0 run with four points rather than letting it swell to 10.
"I just feel like we've got to stay positive," Lane said. "Just because we're sitting at 1-3, we can't lose our heads or lose our focus."