|Final - 2.11.2012
|Western Michigan Broncos (10-15, 4-7 MAC)
|Buffalo Bulls (15-6, 9-2 MAC)
What always puzzled me about free throws was the sheer geometric incongruity of the people who are good at them. Smaller individuals (guards) are statisticsally so much better than the taller ones (forwards/centers). Yet the release point is a bit closer to the basket for tall guys than short guys. Getting to the free throw line can be a curse or a blessing. It can be a helpless feeling for the opposition, or it can be completely gut-wrenching if your man is on the line, and he can't make them.
It's tough to put this loss on Western center Matt Stainbrook. With WMU down one point, he had a chance to win or tie the game for the Broncos in the final second. Coachspeak will always try to deflect blame away from a person who misses the final shot. They'll point to any other play in the game and say that could've been the difference. But once all the breaks, mistakes and successes add up, the game can fall into the hands of one large man who has to make free throws. It's a beautiful part of the game.
Suffice to say WMU would not have had a chance to beat the second-best MAC team without Stainbrook's help: 15 points, 11 rebounds, five of them offensive. As a team they only turned it over six times, which is outstanding.
And Stainbrook's missed free throws will resonate in Kalamazoo. Maybe even some Buffalonians will see it that way. However, moments can be hazy, and photos are crystal clear. I believe this is the game-winning shot hit by Zach Filzen with 12 seconds to go. It wasn't a pretty shot, but the beauty was in its outcome — a clean sweep 6-0 record over the MAC West and a 9-2 record heading into the final stretch of the season.
UB had to trudge along without Javon McCrea, who fouled out with 3:56 left in the game. He finished with a tremendous 16 points, eight rebounds and six blocks. Mitchell Watt also fouled out, but on the final play (hacking Stainbrook might've been the play of the game) and added 14 points of his own, but just one block. Filzen's go-ahead shot gave him 10 points for the game.
And now Western Michigan must move back into their division and salvage a finish to their season. This has been three close losses in a row. They were all against Akron, Kent State and Buffalo, so if you're going to lose three tough ones, they might as well be against the best teams in the MAC. The competition is a little less demoralizing on their side of the league so they may still be best-equipped to make some lemonade. And they're only two games behind West-leading EMU. This is doable.