What better way to kick off the MAC basketball season than an overtime game? That's what we had in Kalamazoo as the Western Michigan Broncos fought tooth and nail with the Kent State Golden Flashes as both teams battled for that first win in conference play.
The game started with both teams feeling each other out. Kent State was able to take a 23-17 lead midway through the half, but the Broncos battled back to take a 33-30 lead with four minutes to go. The teams would trade buckets the rest of the way, but a Jimmy Hall put-back lay-up would make it 38-37 at the half.
The second half started much like the first. Both teams traded buckets, with fouls coming early and often. The two teams combined for 12 fouls in the first six minutes to put each in the bonus the rest of the way. However, both the Broncos and Golden Flashes were able to keep pace with each other, holding at a 46-46 tie after a Kellen McCormick three-pointer.
But that's when Rob Senderoff's team would put the pedal on. The Golden Flashes would go on a 17-5 run, including a 9-0 run following a Tucker Haymond three, as they pounded the ball inside to Hall and Khaliq Spicer to build a 63-51 lead with just over 10 minutes to play.
The Broncos would respond with a 7-0 run of their own to close the gap to 5 with eight minutes to go, but would not be able to pull closer to that, as the two teams returned to trading buckets. The Broncos would pull within 2 after a Haymond three, and after the two teams traded buckets, Thomas Wilder would tie the game on a pull-up jumper with just under two minutes to go. They would get the lead on the next possession with Taylor Perry intercepting a pass and hitting the sophomore point guard for another pull-up jumper to make it 73-71 with 1:30 to go.
However, the Flashes would respond with authority. On the next drive down, Xavier Pollard hit a deep two to re-tie the game at 73-73. Then, after a Bronco miss was couple with great hustle by both teams, Chris Ortiz hit a wide-open three to give the Flashes the lead. But with time winding down, Wilder hit a corner three to tie up the game and Pollard's runner fell short to send the first MAC game of the year into overtime.
The start of the overtime period would be all Kent State. Early fouls on the Broncos coupled with great inside play got Senderoff's squad out to an 84-78 lead. After a free throw and a lay-up closed the gap in half with a minute to go, Pollard would miss a contested shot to give WMU a chance to tie the game. However, Wilder's three-pointer would fall short and the foul game would start. The Broncos would hit a last second three, but it wouldn't be enough as Kent State closed out an 87-84 victory.
Hall finished with 21 points and 7 rebounds, dominating the inside game on a more youthful Western Michigan team. Marvin Jones added 15 points on 5-for-7 shooting and Pollard and Ortiz had 14 and 12 respectively to help pace the Golden Flashes' offense.
For the Broncos, Wilder led all scorers with an incredible 28 points on 9-for-15 shooting, including a 9-for-10 mark from the line. His lone three sent the game to overtime, and he also grabbed 6 rebounds. Haymond finished with 18 points and 8 rebounds, but the two also had 5 turnover apiece. McCormick finished with 16 points on 6-for-7 shooting to also finish in double digits. AJ Avery was a point shy of a double-double, finishing with 9 points and 10 rebounds.
"We had thirteen turnovers from [Wilder, Taylor Perry, and Haymond]," Bronco head coach noted after the game. "You can't do that with a transition team like [Kent State]."
Both teams face MAC East foes next, with the Golden Flashes heading back home to take on a tough Buffalo squad that gave MAC favorite Akron all they could handle on Tuesday night. The Broncos head to Akron to face that Zip squad that squeaked out the road win in Buffalo.