Broncos' Big Three Comes Up Huge, Avoids Upset At Ball State

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Western Michigan fans had to sweat it out a little more than they'd like in the Broncos' 88-81 OT victory over Ball State, but with the win, WMU sits alone at the top of the MAC with three games to play.

They say 3 is the magic number.

Three Blind Mice.  3 legs of the Triple Crown.  3 bears in Goldilocks.

In basketball, there is no exception.

There have been some famous "Big Three" combos throughout the years.  Boston's Bird-McHale-Parish, Chicago's Jordan-Pippen-Rodman, even Miami's LeBron-Wade-Velociraptor. . .err, I mean Bosh.  They are great combos, and all won multiple championships.

For Western Michigan, they have their own "Big Three", if only for another month.

Shayne Whittington, David Brown, and Connar Tava were huge in Western Michigan's 88-81 overtime victory over Ball State on Wednesday, racking up an astounding 76 points combined.  Whittington had himself a double-double with 14 rebounds, while Tava added 5 offensive rebounds himself and Brown stuffed the stat sheet with 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals.

The "Big Three" scored all but 2 of the Broncos' 30 first half points, as the team struggled to find their groove against a defensively sound Ball State team.  The Cardinals pressed Western Michigan into a few mistakes, getting 12 of their 39 points off of turnovers and had 11 fast break points.  They also shot a sizzling 52% from the field in the half,  with Chris Bond and Zavier Turner leading the way.

However, Western Michigan would turn on the heat themselves in the second half, while also taking care of the ball.  Their 16-0 points off turnovers advantage helped tell the tale of how they would use a 15-3 run early in the half to take their first lead in the game with 12:35 to go.

However, Ball State responded by slowly regaining the lead and building it back up to a 69-62 mark with under five minutes to go.  But the Broncos' "Big Three" responded, helping spark a 8-2 run to cut the lead down to 1 with just over two minutes to go.

The two teams would trade baskets late, with Tava and Bond each hitting lay-ups in the final minute to give their respective teams one-point advantages.  However, after Tava would hit one of two free-throws with 8.2 seconds left, a Turner turnover would leave the game tied at 75-75 to head into overtime.

With the extra session in swing, the Cardinals seemed to crumble under the pressure, with Whittington making life harder for Ball State by seemingly swatting every low chance the Cardinals attempted.  After a Majok Majok lay-up to start overtime, a 10-0 Bronco run put away Ball State for good, as they coasted to the 88-81 victory.

Whittington, Brown, and Tava finished with 28, 25, and 23 points respectively for the Broncos.  Austin Richie was next with 8 points and Jared Klein was the only bench player to score, with two free-throws near the end of overtime.  Turner finished with 20 points and 5 assists overall to lead the Cardinals.  Jesse Berry had 17 points himself while Bond finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds in a solid double-double effort.  Majok finished with 9 points and 9 rebounds.

The win was WMU head coach Steve Hawkins' 200th win at the helm of the Broncos, and also helped vault them to the stand-alone top of the MAC (with the help of Toledo's loss to NIU).  Western Michigan and Toledo will square off on Saturday in Savage Arena for the probable MAC Regular Season Championship with just two games left for each team.

Meanwhile, Ball State has now dropped 10 straight games and hopes to send out their seniors with a win against Central Michigan on Saturday.  The Cardinals will head on the road for their last two regular season games before taking on the 5-seed or 6-seed in the MAC tournament on the road as well.

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