The Michigan MAC Trophy is once again up for grabs. After downing Central Michigan earlier in the month, the Eastern Michigan Eagles could not take firm control as they dropped a road game to the Western Michigan Broncos, who now lead the trophy's standings at 1-0 versus 1-1 and 0-1 for their two rivals.
After a short "feeling out" period, the Broncos came out and started to shut down the Eagles. While they were able to get to the line, WMU completely blanked EMU at times, holding Rob Murphy's squad to long stretches of scoreless streaks. With the Eagles clanking outside, the Broncos strolled to a 41-24 halftime lead. EMU had shot just 25% from the floor, with a dismal 10% showing from three. Conversely, WMU had shot 46% from the floor, and had gotten to the line 17 times.
With the Eagles somewhat figuring things out early in the half, the Broncos were only able to extend the lead out to 19 following back-to-back scores by Thomas Wilder. However, the Eagles seemed to put everything together when they went to their 1-2-1-1 press, going on a 9-2 run over a short span of 81 seconds to cut the deficit to 12.
The two teams would start to trade runs and threes from there, with the Broncos able to push their lead to 16 before a quick 7-0 run by EMU finally got the game back to single digits with 8 minutes to play. They would trade baskets again, before a Tim Bond lay-up made it a seven point game with just under 6 minutes to play. With the Eagles shooting red-hot, it appeared they might steal one from the Broncos.
Wilder had other plans.
With a double-double already in hand, the sophomore point guard stood tall for WMU. With Ty Toney coming up the court in a single-digit game, Wilder picked the junior clean then raced down the court for a lay-up through a foul by Brandon Nazione. He would hit the free throw to give the Broncos a double-digit lead with four and a half minutes to play. A minute-and-a-half later, he would drill a long three to give WMU an 83-71 lead with three minutes left.
The Eagles would cool off, unable to hit any threes consistently down the stretch. With the free throw battle going the Broncos' way, they would finish the game from the line on their way to a 94-86 win.
"We proved we could play with anybody, we just have to put it all together now," Wilder said after the game. He had a career high 35 points and 10 rebounds, for his first career double-double. "We have the confidence, now we just have to come together as one."
Coach Murphy was upbeat despite the loss. His team gave up a season-high 94 points to the Broncos, after holding a Steve Hawkins' lead WMU team to just 37 two years prior.
"I thought Western played a physical, hard-nosed game today," he said after the game. "They defended us extremely well, and we didn't shoot the ball well when we kicked it out. Any time you have to claw back into a game, it's going to be tough."
"It was a much needed win," Hawkins said in the post-game press conference. "We shot the ball well, and were really good defensively in the first half. Thomas (Wilder) was huge for us, and when things broke down or the shot clock was winding down, he was able to bail us out with some big shots."
For the Broncos, to go with Wilder's career night, they got solid scoring from Tucker Haymond and pals. Haymond had 11 points and six rebounds, and the rest of the Broncos chipped in with solid play. Anthony Avery Jr had 11 points and 5 rebounds, Drake LaMont had 6 points and 9 boards, and Bryce Moore added 8 points including two big threes.
For the Eagles, Ty Toney had a big 2nd half, scoring 16 of his 23 points to help the comeback effort. James Thompson IV had another double-double, and played foul free after picking up two quick ones in the first three minutes. The freshman big man had 17 points and 11 rebounds. Tim Bond, Willie Mangum IV, and Brandon Nazione all added 17, 11, and 10 respectively, as Jodan Price was the only player to score off the bench (8 points).
The Broncos now begin a tough rest of their schedule. With 6 home games in the conference thus far, they are slated for just three more the rest of the way, including only two in February. They begin their journey with a trip to Toledo on Tuesday. The Eagles return home hoping to climb out of the MAC West cellar with a game against lowly Miami on Tuesday.
|Player||Western Michigan||Eastern Michigan|
|Points||T. Wilder (35)||T. Toney (21)|
|Rebounds||T. Wilder (10)||J. Thompson IV (11)|
|Assists||Two tied (4)||W. Mangum IV (6)|
|Blocks||Two tied (2)||Three tied (1)|
|Steals||T. Wilder (3)||W. Mangum IV (3)|