Western Michigan and Miami staged a thrilling game Saturday afternoon, with the Broncos emerging victorious by a single point in overtime. The game featured 8 lead changes and 4 ties after only 4 minutes remained in regulation.
The Broncos raced out to an 18-4 lead, capped by back-to-back three pointers by Tucker Haymond. Miami slowly got back into the game utilizing a full court press, though Western Michigan was able to get some easy buckets and wide-open 3-pointers to maintain the lead. Western Michigan matched their biggest lead at 28-14, but then sloppy play at both ends allowed Miami to narrow the gap to 32-26.
David Brown came into the contest as the MAC's leading scorer at over 18 points per game, and was the Broncos main force at the offensive end in the first half. Brown canned his third triple just before halftime to total 13 first half points and set the score at the break at 35-26. On the other hand, Miami's leading scorer Will Felder was held without a field goal in the first half, contributing only four made foul shots.
Bill Edwards, a 6'6" senior forward for the RedHawks, had been out of action since November 2012 after sustaining a season-ending knee injury. In his first game of the season, Edwards starred for Miami, leading the team with 24 points off the bench. While Miami's second half runs were fueled by defensive pressure from the guards, it was the tandem offensive force of Edwards and an assertive Felder that put points on the board. Felder rebounded from the first half to total 19 points and 7 boards on the day.
Miami came out in the second half forcing turnovers with furious pressure in half-court defense, and capitalizing on the offensive end, narrowing the gap to 37-34. Connar Tava hit a pair of baskets but collected his third foul and left the floor with a 41-34 lead. Tava had been the other main offensive contributor to that point, hitting all 5 field goal attempts with 11 points. From that point, the Broncos struggled offensively with Brown missing his first 4 shots of the half, and the RedHawks closed to 41-40.
After the two teams traded successful possessions, Western Michigan scored on 4 consecutive possessions to take a 52-45 lead. Again the RedHawks clamped down with defensive pressure, their full-court press especially effective after made shots. Miami broke through with their first lead of the game as Bill Edwards hit his third three-pointer of the game to give the RedHawks a 58-56 lead. David Brown answered with a pull-up 25-foot three from straight away, but Edwards buried another bomb for a 61-59 Miami advantage at the under-4:00 timeout.
Austin Richie, who had struggled both offensively and in ball-handling, responded by hitting his first shot of the game, a 3-pointer, to briefly reclaim the lead for the Broncos. On the ensuing RedHawks possession, Willie Moore was forced into a desperation fade-away 15 foot baseline jumper high over the backboard as the shot clock expired - and hit it for a 1-point Miami lead. Connar Tava answered by hitting both foul shots after being fouled on a driving layup.
In the final minute of regulation, Will Felder missed a 3-pointer for Miami, but the RedHawks collected the offensive rebound. They cleared out for Geovonie McKnight on a drive with 15 seconds left, but McKnight travelled while trying a spin move and turned the ball over. David Brown was fouled on the inbounds play, but hit only the front end of the one-and-one opportunity. Willie Moore tied the game with 2 seconds remaining to send the game to overtime.
The teams were tied at 69 apiece in overtime when consecutive Miami possessions ended in sloppy unforced turnovers. The Broncos took advantage with Connar Tava and Shayne Whittington forging a 74-69 lead. With a 75-71 lead, Shayne Whittington turned the ball over to Quinten Rollins, and Will Felder scored on a nifty post move at the offensive end to narrow the lead to 2 with 1:10 left in OT.
Western Michigan led 77-75 when Connar Tava drove the lane but missed a left-handed layup, his first miss from the floor in over 80 minutes of game action. Bill Edwards responded with a running 8-foot shot in the lane to tie it at 77 with 6 seconds on the clock.
David Brown took the ensuing inbounds pass and streaked down the court and into the lane, drawing Edwards' 5th foul with 2 seconds left. Brown made the first shot but missed the second well short - possibly intentionally - and the Broncos claimed the loose ball as the clock expired for a thrilling win.
Quinten Rollins collected 7 steals in the MAC opener against Central Michigan, tying his own single-game record at Miami. Rollins came into the season 8th on the all-time steals list at Miami, and after 3 more steals today is alone in 3rd with 174 career steals.
Western Michigan had won the last 3 meetings between these clubs, including a 72-68 win in January, 2013. In that tight game, Will Felder tallied 17 points and 13 rebounds. Miami leads the all-time series, 81-42, and had won 51 of the 58 meetings in Oxford entering today's action.
Western Michigan had lost all 4 previous true road games this year, though they were tough at Missouri and Drake, losing by a total of 9 points. They did win two neutral court games early in the season, including a win against New Mexico State (RPI #55). Miami had won all 3 home games this year against division I opponents.
Newcomers to MAC basketball will note Miami's 8-24 combined league record over the past 2 years, but Miami preceded that with 22 (!) consecutive seasons of .500 or better conference records. This loss will sting in the short-term, but it has to be considered extremely encouraging for a rebuilding squad. With the nice road win to open conference play at Central Michigan, Miami has put together back-to-back strong performances and appears ready to compete successfully over the course of this season.
For Western Michigan, this 2-0 start to the season establishes them among the league's contenders, especially coming off of a western division championship last season. The apparent emergence of Connar Tava as a bona fide scoring threat alongside Brown and Whittington gives the Broncos a formidable trio on the offensive end.
Next up for these two teams: Western Michigan heads to Ypsilanti on Tuesday to face Eastern Michigan; Miami travels to Akron on Wednesday.