In a year where anything could happen in the MAC, a season finale full of action just had to be. The Western Michigan Broncos played their part to help kick-start the madness in their 74-62 victory over the Central Michigan Chippewas, starting the scoreboard watching as the two high profile MAC East games came down to the wire.
It started as any other game. The Broncos attempted to pound the rock inside to Connar Tava and Drake LaMont while the Chippewas looked to their hot hand in John Simons, who had just drilled the Toledo Rockets into oblivion in their match-up on Tuesday. While Steve Hawkins' crew jumped out to an early 9-6 lead, it looked as if the game would be a tooth-and-nail match-up like any other rivalry game.
But then the Broncos took over. Tucker Haymond, in his first game back after sitting out the past four games with pneumonia, took over. The sophomore put up 9 points in just 11 minutes of action, while also grabbing three rebounds and dishing out a pair of assists, helping to push the Broncos to an incredible 39-22 lead at the half. His inside-out game with LaMont, who also finished the half with 9 points, proved to be seemingly unstoppable.
However, while the Chippewas seemed to be shut down, their own spark plug remained waiting and ready to pounce in the second half.
Yes, while Simons cooled off (quickly, I might add), Chris Fowler was quietly adding up points in the first half to keep his team in it. He finished with the first with 11 points, and went 5-for-6 from the line. He would follow that up with a spectacular second, leading his teammates back into the game as well.
The trio guard combo of Fowler, Braylon Rayson, and Rayshawn Simmons quickly pieced together a 12-2 run in the first five minutes of the second half to get their team back into the game. After a David Brown technical foul for elbowing Simmons, the Chippewas were able to get even closer, drawing the deficit down to a mere six points with just under 13 minutes to play.
However, that'd be as close as they'd get.
While the game strolled along, the trio guard combo slowed down, both with their hot hands and their athletic play on defense. Despite forcing 12 Bronco turnovers in the half, the Chippewas also committed 12 fouls. Rayson did not hit a shot after making the layup to complete the 12-2 run, and Tucker Haymond hit a quick 7 points to break the Broncos out of a slump and crush the CMU run before it could continue.
And yet, while Fowler and Simmons kept bringing the Chippewas seemingly back into the game, the Broncos calmly kept hitting their free throws when they would be fouled by the overly aggressive CMU defense that had given them fits just minutes earlier in the game.
In the end, Haymond finished with 20 points and four rebounds in 21 minutes of action. Tava finished with a double-double, getting 10 points and 10 rebounds, while also dishing out 6 assists (and committing 7 turnovers). In their final regular season action at home, seniors Austin Richie and David Brown had polar nights. Richie, the four-year point guard seemingly from day one, finished with 15 points and 4 assists while shooting 3/6 from the three-point line. Brown, in his sixth year with the Broncos in the midst of a storied career, finished with 5 points and 4 turnovers, seeing 28 minutes of actions.
For the Chippewas, Fowler finished with a game-high 21 points while Simmons was right behind with 19. However Rayson and Simons were ice cold, with both shooting 4-for-10 from the floor and finishing with 9 and 10 points respectively. The only other player hit a shot was Blake Hibbitts (whose dunk coincidentally closed the gap back to 7 with 8:30 to go, the last time CMU would get that close as well).
Despite the loss, thanks to the results out East, the Chippewas secured the 1-seed in the MAC Tournament, securing a bye all the way to the semi-finals. Because of their loss to NIU on Tuesday, the Broncos knew they would host a first round game on Monday. But with their win and Akron's loss, they will avoid the red-hot NIU team they had just faced and will get Ohio, who snapped a 7-game losing streak on Friday with their 30-point thrashing of Ohio, their first double-digit win over any opponent in 2015.