Usually, the saying is "I went to a fight, and a hockey game game broke out". On Saturday night in Kalamazoo, the saying was "I went to a rugby match, and a basketball game broke out".
It didn't take long either. Just four minutes into the game, Thomas Wilder picked off an Aaric Armstead pass and found Tucker Haymond for a breakaway opportunity to extend their 9-2 lead. However, as Haymond pulled up for a lay-up, he was fouled hard by Travon Baker, who was called for a flagrant foul on the play. What ensued was pure calamity.
As Haymond got up quickly, seemingly taking offense to the intensity of the foul, he and Baker exchanged words, the NIU bench and rest of the players on the court came together in an utter mess. With a lot of shoving taking place, it took a few moments to break everyone up. After fifteen minutes of deliberation, the officials decided to eject Baker for a double flagrant on the play. Joining the senior guard were Marshawn Wilson, Jordan Thomas, and Andrew Zelis for leaving the bench. Drake Lamont and Marin Maric each received an off-setting technical foul for a shoving match that occurred in front of an official.
From there, the two teams continued their physical play. Between hard fouls and no calls on both ends, both Steve Hawkins and Mark Montgomery were in the officials' ears throughout the night. However, the Broncos were able to secure a 40-28 halftime lead behind solid play from Bryce Moore, who had his first career start on the night. The freshman guard had 15 points in the first half, including a trio of three-pointers to pace an offense that had been ice cold against Ball State just days before.
The Huskies would come out on a 5-0 run to close the gap early in the half, but the Broncos would respond with a 17-4 run to put them up 20 with 13 minutes to play. The two teams would trade mini-runs the rest of the way, with the Huskies not able to pull closer than 15 points of the Broncos until a last second three to end the scoring and send it to a final of 83-69.
Moore finished with a career high 24 points to lead all scorers. Haymond and Anthony Avery Jr added 11 apiece for the Broncos, with Haymond going 8-for-8 from the line. Taylor Perry had a solid 7 point, 7 rebound line to help boost WMU, with the senior guard coming off the bench to give way to Moore's start.
For the Huskies, due to the ejections, they were forced to go to an 8-man rotation. Baker's streak of 20-point games ended at three due to his double flagrant, and Montgomery relied on a varying support cast to stay in the game. Aaric Armstead led the Huskies with 15 points and 7 rebounds. Austin Pauga added 12 points off the bench, and Levi Bradley and Maric both tallied 11 points apiece in the losing effort.
The Broncos now hit the road to face the Ohio Bobcats on Tuesday. The Huskies return home to regain some of the magic of their 3-0 start as they face a CMU team that has struggled this year.
|Player||Western Michigan||Northern Illinois|
|Points||B. Moore (24)||A. Armstead (15)|
|Rebounds||T. Perry (7)||A. Armstead (7)|
|Assists||Three tied (3)||Two tied (3)|
|Blocks||A. Avery (4)||M. Maric (2)|
|Steals||D. LaMont (5)||M. Maric (2)|