"The focus out of us was really good. We came out and tried to focus and our first four minutes payed off for us."
That was Western Michigan point guard Austin Richie after a huge 90-74 victory over the Ohio Bobcats on Wednesday night. The Broncos, who had been struggling to play consistently since their upset over Toledo to start MAC play, surged in the 2nd half, scoring 53 points en route to their victory. Ohio, who had only one other loss of more than 12 points all season, had struggled mightily with the first two "directional" Michigan MAC teams before the loss, their first road loss in MAC play.
"It was a heck of a ball game. Both teams played well, and that's rare to have happen, no matter the sport," Bronco head coach Steve Hawkins said after the game. "Both teams traded punches in the first half, and there was just enough done in the second half that enabled us to get away."
And Hawkins was right. Both teams traded blows early on, with Maurice Ndour and Nick Kellogg helping Ohio jump out to an early lead. The two combined for the first 15 points before the rest of the Bobcats came back and started to hit 3-pointers almost at will.
After a 10-2 Bobcat run to extend the lead to 11, The Broncos started to chip away. First, they would go on a mini 6-0 run to pull within five. And when Ohio went back up nine with 3:06 to go in the first half, Western Michigan used a 10-0 run over the next two minutes to take the lead just before halftime.
Ndour and Kellogg, who had paced the Bobcats to the early lead, had each failed to register a point after the first 15 points. However, the rest of the Bobcats helped pick up the slack, going 5-for-8 from beyond the 3-point line and remaining balanced, as Kellogg still led Ohio in first half points at nine. Meanwhile, Connar Tava seemed to find his game again, putting up 12 points while being matched up with the powerful Ndour often. David Brown and Richie added another combined 20 points, while going 4-for-6 from beyond the arch.
The second half started like the first half ended, with a prize fight worthy match. The two teams exchanged scores, matching runs often. No team led by more than three until seven minutes into the half, when Brown hit a three to give the Broncos a 50-45 lead. But the Bobcats would respond with a 7-0 run themselves to retake the lead.
They would continue to exchange scores and the lead for the next two-and-a-half minutes, until a Richie 3-pointer gave the Broncos the cushion, and the lead for good with 8:38 to play. That score was part of both a 10-0 run and a 20-4 run in which the Broncos ran out to a 13-point lead with 4:41 to go.
Travis Wilkins would hit a 3-pointer with 2:45 to go to cut the deficit to single digits, but that would be the closest the Bobcats would get as Western Michigan sank their free-throws while Ohio went ice-cold from the field.
Richie finished with a game-high 22 points, tying his career high that he set as a freshman. Brown would add another 20 himself while both Shayne Whittington and Tava finished with 18 apiece. Ndour would finish with 20 points, but Kellogg was ice cold, missing his last six 3-point attempts in a 13 point performance. T.J. Hall and Stevie Taylor both added 12 points with Hall finishing just two rebounds away from a double-double.
The key to the game was the foul line. The Broncos went 26-for-35 from the charity stripe while Ohio went 7-for-11 and had many players in foul trouble most of the night. Western Michigan also shot 72,7% from the field in the second half, going 16-for-22 and 4-for-6 from beyond the 3-point line.
Ohio now must rebound with a tough Miami team coming to town on Saturday. Meanwhile, the Broncos head to NIU on Sunday to take on a Huskie team that seems to be hitting their own stride as of late. Both teams sit a game back of their respective division leads, and are tied with Buffalo for the last two byes in the MAC tournament at the mid-way point of the conference schedule. They'll meet again in two weeks on February 19th at the Convo.
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