Fourteen points (5-of-11 field goals), four assists, and 25 minutes.
The above is a very important stat line, and while it didn’t lead the Chippewas in their last game against NAIA-level Aquinas College, it was very noteworthy in the fact that it was the first game back from a concerning knee injury for Chris Fowler, the senior leader for the Chippewas (4-4, 0-0 MAC).
Fowler missed the first seven games of the season before returning against Aquinas.
Fowler averaged 16.2 points per game, three rebounds, and six assists per game on 50% shooting, going 30% from beyond three-point range in 2014. He helped lead the Chippewas to a MAC West title and an appearance in the MAC Championship Game against Buffalo in Cleveland after a 2013 season that saw CMU win only five games on the entire season.
Fowler, who has been plagued with knee troubles since his high school days at Detroit Country Day, played primarily in the first half and looked a little laggard at points, but it was his presence that ultimately mattered.
The Chippewas had been on a nasty streak of games after starting the season 2-0, fending off NAIA-level Alma College at home late, finishing last in the Gulf Coast Showcase with three straight bad losses to Weber State, Western Kentucky, and Milwaukee, and losing a heartbreaker to Grand Canyon on the road after holding an eight-point lead late in the second half.
In that 1-4 streak, the Chippewas looked disjointed and were mainly reliant on the playmaking abilities of Braylon Rayson and Rayshawn Simmons, both of whom usually have to be set up with shots.
Fowler is the Chippewas’ true inside threat, a player who must be accounted for both in the lane and on the perimeter, which creates ample opportunities for CMU’s shooters to set up and take the easy shot. Fowler’s shooting abilities, as well as his ability to distribute, is the key lynchpin in what is referred to as the “#3MU” offense, which is predicated on ball movement and stop-and-shoot shots on the perimeter.
The #3MU offense was deadly last season, as the Chippewas averaged 10 made 3-point shots per game and shot 37.3% as a team, making 322 of 864 attempts, both of which were near the top of the NCAA in 2014.
The return of the point guard comes at a critical time for CMU, as it closes out the final games of the non-conference season.
Later tonight, the Chippewas take on last year’s SWAC tournament champion Texas Southern Tigers (who are playing a top 40 strength of schedule out of conference) at McGuirk Arena before the Chips fly to Provo, UT to take on Big West contender Brigham Young University over the holiday break. Games against Howard at home and William and Mary on the road will also meet them before a tune-up vs. Lourdes University.
If the Chippewas can walk out with at least three wins from this stretch of games and find their rhythm in time for the conference season, they will be in prime position to make a run through the league table and instill some confidence back in a fan base that has been shaken by an unexpected slow start for the preseason MAC favorites.
The Chippewas will play Texas Southern (1-7, 0-0 SWAC) tonight at 4:30 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN3 and the WatchESPN App, which both need a valid cable subscription to work.