KALAMAZOO -- Western Michigan University head coach Steve Hawkins was happy to be able to give his team a few days off after his Broncos avenged last year's opening game loss, topping Cornell of the IVY League 83-70 Friday night at University Arena.
"This last four game homestand has really helped us to establish our identity as a team," said Hawkins. "I think that going forward we have a pretty good idea of who we are and who we are not." Going forward will be a challenge as the Broncos hit the road for games against Northwestern of the Big 10 and Missouri of the South East Conference.
What the Broncos are, is a team that will win its share of games this year but every single one will be in doubt until the last few minutes. They will be a team that will pound you in the paint, as they did against Cornell, outscoring the Big Red 50-16. They will also be a team vulnerable to a hot shooting perimeter team, case in point, Cornell made 16 shot's from behind the arc compared to two for the Broncos.
This team will ultimately live or die by its free throw shooting down the stretch. Junior point guard Austin Ritchie was one of four Broncos in double figures with 14 points, 11 of those coming from the free throw line, eight of those in the final 4:36.
The Broncos will also be a team that requires some balance. There is no denying that this team relies heavily on the leadership and production of its "dynamic duo" of red shirt seniors David Brown, who entered the game as the MAC's leading scorer with 22.5 ppg and Shayne Whittington who came in averaging a double (17.3 ppg) double (11 rpg). The two combined for 30 points (16 and 14 respectively) against the Big Red.
Sophomore Connar Tava has emerged as a solid third scoring option. Tava, a rugged 6-6 who would look good in shoulder pads, posted a double double with 16 points and a game high 14 rebounds. "Conor is really our kind of player," said Hawkins. "He's a hard nosed kid who can really take it to the rim, knows how and is not afraid to draw contact and can pass the ball off the dribble"
It was Tava who bulled his way in for a lay up and one to give the Broncos its largest lead 71-61, with 4:29 left in the contest. The Broncos never looked back as Ritchie stepped to the line late in the contest and dropped in free throws including a couple of technicals after he was mugged on a fast break.
Cornell, who has lost to the likes of defending national champion Louisville and Syracuse in addition to Friday's defeat limps back to Ithaca, NY at 0-8.
"We will take a few days off, before getting back to work on Monday, further developing our bench," said Hawkins. "We won't worry about Northwestern and Missouri until later in the week."