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January 25, 2014

CMU drops a tight contest to Akron

MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. - Sophomore Blake Hibbitts scored a career-high 21 points and Central Michigan gave the two-time defending MAC champion Akron Zips all it could handle, but it was not enough and the Chippewas went down to a 82-74 defeat on Saturday night at McGuirk Arena.

Hibbitts led three Chippewas in double figures, connecting on 7-of-11 shots overall and 3-of-5 three pointers. He also pulled down a team-high six rebounds. Sophomore guard Chris Fowler notched his ninth 20-point game of the season, totaling 20 even, including eight at the free throw line but fouled out for the first time this season with 1:55 remaining in the game. Junior guard Austin Keel gave a strong performance off the bench for the second straight game, tallying 15 points and three rebounds.

Central Michigan (7-11, 0-6 MAC) shot well from the field (47%, 25-53) but so did Akron (51%, 29-56). A big difference came from long range, as 12 of the Zips' 29 made shots were three-pointers. Akron outrebounded CMU, 34-29, including an 11-6 advantage on the offensive end, which the Zips turned into 16 second-chance points. The game was frenetic in spots, as the teams combined for 33 turnovers.

At the 8:30 mark of the second half, Braylon Rayson and Keel combined for the play of the game to even the score at 62-62. Rayson chased down a ball that looked to be speeding out of bounds on a fast break and flipped it no-look style to Keel, who knocked down a game-tying three pointer. But Akron hit three-pointers on three-straight possessions to take a lead it would not relinquish.

The Zips managed to push to their largest lead of the game at 74-63 with 4:41 remaining but CMU responded with a 5-0 rally, getting points off a free throw from Rayson, a Keel layup and a Fowler short-range jumper to pull within six. However, despite entering the game dead-last in the MAC in free throw shooting and making just 47 percent of its attempts for the game, Akron was able to hit eight from the charity stripe down the stretch to secure the win.

CMU played, perhaps, its best basketball of the MAC season in the first half, going toe-to-toe with first place Akron. The first 20 minutes was marked by back-and-forth play, featuring eight ties and eight lead changes.

After Akron's Carmelo Betancourt knocked down a three-pointer to give the Zips at the 25-24 lead with 6:58 remaining, the Chippewas established momentum with an impressive 10-1 run. Keel ignited the rally with a three-pointer which was followed by two baskets from Fowler and three-point play by Hibbitts, aided by a basket interference call on Akron. Up 34-26, CMU looked to be in a good spot with four-plus minutes to play. But the Zips heated up quickly and fired back, ending the half on a 15-2 run to go to the break with a 41-36 lead.

Undaunted by the shaky ending to the first half, CMU came out strong in the second. After Akron increased its advantage to eight at 48-40, the Chippewas rallied behind the standout play of Hibbitts. In less than two minutes, Hibbitts scored eight points, including two-three pointers, to provide CMU with a 50-48 lead. The teams traded baskets over the next six minutes before Keel's timely three knotted the game at 62-62.

Akron (13-6, 5-1 MAC) was headlined by forward Demetrius Treadwell, who notched a double-double with 15 points and 14 rebounds, and 19 from forward Quincy Diggs. Jake Kretzer (15) and Reggie McAdams (11) also reached double figures for the Zips.

CMU begins a two-game road swing on Wednesday when it visits Athens for a 7 p.m. clash with Ohio (13-5, 3-2 MAC) on Wednesday, Jan. 29. Next weekend, the Chippewas will be in Kalamazoo to face rival Western Michigan (10-7, 3-2 MAC). Tip time is set for 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 1.

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