Kyle Randall hit Central Michigan's 14th three-pointer of the night with 2:19 remaining and the Chippewas knocked down 8-of-13 from the line the rest of the way to hang on for an 80-77 victory over a Pepperdine team that was off to its best start in five years.
Randall's fourth three-ball gave the Chippewas (5-4) a 72-65 lead and a seven-point advantage they were able to maintain for the next two minutes with their performance at the line. The Waves (6-4), however, scored eight points in a matter of 16 seconds that included a pair of threes by Lorne Jackson ?? the last with 0.7 seconds remaining to come within one, 78-77. Randall wrapped up the game by hitting both attempts at the line, and John Simons got a hand on the Waves' inbounds pass as time expired.
For the Chippewas, it was their highest-scoring game of the season and their first true road win under Keno Davis after two neutral-site victories. Pepperdine allowed 16 points more than its season average and suffered its first loss at home.
The Waves quickly got out to a 5-0 lead after two possessions of what would be an up-tempo game by both teams, but Randall scored the first five points for the Chippewas and Austin Keel drained a three-pointer to bring them within one, 9-8, at the 15:53 mark. Keel shot 5-of-9 to tie a career-high 12 points and become one of four Chippewas in double-figures.
Freshman Blake Hibbitts had the hot hand in the first half and sparked a 12-2 run to turn a two-point deficit into a 24-16 advantage. His first three pointer gave the Chippewas their first lead of the game and he followed that with back-to-back threes to go on a 9-0 run of his own. He ended with a career-high 15 points.
"It's a different guy each game; you never know who is going to come up with the big play," said Davis.
The Waves led just once after that, and only for 20 seconds when they took a 33-32 lead with the first bucket of the second half. CMU responded with a 9-0 run on three-pointers by Keel, John Simons and Randall to go up 41-33 less than three minutes after the break.
The Chippewas led by as many as 13, at the 13:00 mark, but could never get comfortable as the Waves came as close as one, 66-65, with 4:35 left. Neither team could pull away as both shot at least 50 percent on the night and neared 75 percent at times in the second half. The Chippewas his 62 percent from the floor in the second half while the Waves shot 56 percent. Fourteen of CMU's 25 field goals were from long range ?? the most since hitting the same number versus Ohio in February 2010 and just two off of the program record.
Randall led all scorers with 21 points; Hibbitts shot 5-of-8 and had a block at the halftime buzzer to preserve a two-point lead; and Simons grabbed a team-high five rebounds and joined Keel in the career-high column with 12 points. Central was out-rebounded 35-19 but took 20 more attempts at the line and turned the ball over just eight times to Pepperdine's 19.
"That doesn't happen to young teams, to be able to understand how to attack the basket with passion like that. We are learning on the fly but we are getting better," said Davis.
Four freshmen graced the floor for the Chippewas during the final 3:03 as they fought to maintain their lead.
"We are doing it right now out of necessity. The injuries to Zach Saylor and Deandray Buckley have allowed our young guys to get a lot of experience so when we come down the stretch, these freshmen have the experience to help us win ball games."