Tuesday night the Niners escaped with a hard-fought albeit often times ugly win over the Central Michigan Chippewas 77-75. Like the NCAA tournament matchup in 1977, this one needed extra time to settle. The Niners had three players with double-doubles, with Jr. F/C Chris Braswell leading the way with 22 points and 10 rebounds. For CMU, Trey Zeigler led them with 22 points; however, a strong argument could be made that his play hurt the Chippewas more than it helped. The Niners jumped out to an early 12-0 lead with what looked like a layup drill, taking advantage of the Chippewas’ early turnovers, misses and poor rebounding.
Coming out of a full timeout by CMU to stop the bleeding, Niners’ head coach Alan Major responded with a now curious decision to perform a full hockey style shift change, bringing out all five starters for Briscoe, Voncina, Williams, Nickerson and Sherrill. CMU responded with a 16-2 run, taking advantage of turnovers, poor rotations and cold shooting. Zeigler and Andre Coimbra (who was doing his best Charlie Coley impersonation) led the early Chippewa comeback. The run following the substitutions raised the question “Should you tamper with chemistry?” as the squad that ran out to the big lead was replaced with a unit that immediately gave it back.
The Niners eventually stemmed the tide; however, a trio of three pointers (two by Derek Jackson, who was getting free in the corner and Austin McBroom) left the Niners with a slim 28-27 margin at the half. The second half opened with a run reminiscent of the second half of the NCCU game, with Javarris Barnett scoring 4 quick points. A DeMario Mayfield 3 pointer would give the Niners a 37-32 lead with 16:46 remaining, their largest of the 2nd half. From that point the Niners went stone cold, missing jumper after jumper, failing the find Braswell against the CMU zone and turning the ball over with alarming frequency as the Chippewas’ took a 44-42 lead on another Austin McBroom 3 pointer with 12:44 remaining.
Derrio Green in particular appeared to struggle with his game, missing open shots, turning the ball over and all-around looking a shadow of the player Niner fans saw last Friday against NC Central. Despite struggles game long with his play, Green, who finished with 9 points on 3-15 shooting (including 0-8 from outside) and 3 turnovers, would play a large part in the comeback, converting on a three-point play (the old fashioned way) following a Javarris Barnett 3 pointer.
The Niners would claw back into the game with a renewed focus on defense coupled with Zeigler’s tendency to try and play hero ball, often putting up ill-advised shots in traffic. Two incumbants, Barnett and Braswell with the help of Mayfield, helped trim the deficit to 1 point before a Green mid-range jumper with 11 seconds to go gave the Niners a 61-60 lead. Unfortunately for the men in green, the Niners would see their hopes dim when Trey Zeigler was sent to the line with 4.8 seconds remaining on a dubois drive to the basket where he was clearly out of control. These are 50/50 calls and unfortunately that one went against the Niners. Ziegler, however, failed to deliver, missing the first of two foul shots. He converted on the second to tie the game at 61 and a Pierria Henry heave with time expiring failed to connect, sending the game to OT.
Despite managing to foul out two CMU big men over regulation and the first over time period (Coimbra and Mbaigoto), Braswell and the Niners failed to build a commanding lead and put the game away. This led to a Zack Shaylor mid-range jumper as time ran out in OT to tie the game at 70-70 and send it to double OT.
Fortunately in the second extra frame Braswell and Green hit the majority of their FTs to help the Niners build a 77-72 lead. Braswell fouled out yet another Chippewa big man, this time Saylor, to leave CMU desperately thin in the paint. Despite what should have been a comfortable margain, Pierria Henry missed a pair of FTs that would have sealed the victory. Austin McBroom stepped up yet again for Central Michigan, restoring life to the Chippewas with a three pointer to bring them within 2 at 77-75. The Niners would hold on though, as yet another Zeigler jumper in traffic failed to connect.
Yes, there were some. The trio of Braswell, Barnett (17 and 12) and Mayfield (15 and 10) each had double-doubles for the Niners. Mayfield in particular is emerging as a do-everything player for, adding 5 assists and 2 steals to go with only 1 turnover. Braswell also deserves recognition. In both games he has dominated the interior, scoring at will when he gets the ball (though that has been difficult at times, particularly against the zone) and drawing fouls when he doesn’t. It seems as if Braswell has refound the spark that led him to a very successful Fr. campaign. The Niners also did a good job on Trey Zeigler, the highly touted swingman who despite scoring 22 points took 26 shots in order to get there. That’s part strong defense, part hero complex by Zeigler. He also only managed 4-11 from the line, evoking comparisons with Dominique Sutton. Finally our rebounding, which had a 53-40 advantage, was impressive. Whether we can do that against larger, more experienced front lines remains to be seen.
Turnovers and poor shooting. By themselves they are difficult to overcome, together it’s a near miracle we won. Derrio Green and Deuce Briscoe each had very forgettable games, shooting a combined 4-20 (0-10 from 3) and committing 7 turnovers. A veteran backcourt needs to do much better than that if we are to succeed this season. However, a win is a win and the team will hopefully be receptive to the constructive criticism of Alan Major in practice the remainder of the week. Speaking of Major, his substitution pattern early in the game stuck out as an oddity, as it evaporated the early momentum and allowed CMU to get back into the game. Rest assured he will be asked about it by us for tomrrow’s Alan Major Radio Show.
It’s a win and they’re 2-0. Though there are some very talented pieces to work with, the Niners are still rough around the edges. Turnovers and the play of our upperclassmen guards is very concerning. However, road wins build a team’s character and we’ll take this one any way we can get it. On to Lamar Saturday.