Chippewas Open Season in Dramatic Fashion

HONOLULU, Hawaii - All four seniors came up big but none bigger than Jalin Thomas whose game-winning buzzer-beater opened Central Michigan's season with a 70-67 victory over Cal State Fullerton in the first round of the Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic.

Cal State Fullerton (0-1) had possession in the waning seconds of a tie ballgame, but Chippewas senior Amir Rashid drew a charge in the lane with 5.3 seconds left on the clock, leaving Central Michigan just enough time for one last shot.

Freshman Trey Zeigler hurried the ball up the length of the court and dished it off to Jalin Thomas on the right wing. Thomas caught the ball in stride and hit his third three-pointer, giving him a career-high 21 points on the night.

"Coach drew up a great play and we were able to execute it," Thomas said. "We wanted to get the ball to Trey and let him penetrate and that's exactly what he did. I was really sick (today) but being a senior and a captain I knew I had to step up and show the guys what battling through adversity really is and that is something I was concentrating on the entire game."

Rashid also tallied a career high, scoring 13 points as one of four Chippewas in double-figures. Zeigler, starting his first game as a true freshman, added 11 points, eight rebounds and five assists, while William McClure grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds, including 10 in the first half. Andre Coimbra poured in 12 points off the bench.

"You're only as good as your seniors," CMU head coach Ernie Zeigler said. "I've been saying it all preseason, and people look at our seniors who were all role players last year, but seniors emerge. (The four seniors) were absolute men tonight. This is just a start for a young team tonight. But the way we battled, hopefully it's something we can continue to build on."

The Chippewas (1-0) started out slow, falling behind 11-2 on 1-for-10 shooting in the first 4:13, but never trailed by more than 10. Trailing the entire first half, they were able to cut the Titans' lead to four, 37-33, by halftime with a 7-0 run in the final three minutes of the period.

"We have all our new guys, even our seniors are in new roles, and Cal State Fullerton came out with a lot of intensity while we came out on our heels and they kind of hit us in the mouth," Coach Zeigler said. "We just talked about 'keep battling, keep battling.'"

CMU continued its run by scoring the first eight points out of the locker room to take a 41-37 lead less than two minutes into the second half. The rest of the way saw four ties and a pair of lead changes but neither team led by more than six. The Chippewas held on to a lead from the 7:04 mark, fighting off the Titans until a three-pointer with 1:01 remaining knotted the game at 67.

Free throw shooting kept the Chippewas in the game as they converted all seven attempts in the first half and ended the game at 65 percent, while the Titans went 1-7 before halftime and ended at just 46 percent (11-of-24). As a team, CMU recorded 15 assists and just 10 turnovers.

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