Courtesy of: David James and Brian Persky, broncoblitz.com
Halfway through the second half of a seemingly lackluster performance at Quicken Loans Arena, it was as if a switch flipped for Steve Hawkins' Western Michigan basketball team.
Shayne Whittington paced WMU with 18 and Connar Tava and David Brown added 16 as WMU (22-9) stormed back from a 17-point halftime deficit to force overtime in Cleveland. The Broncos went on to outscore Akron 12-8 in the extra frame to take the improbable 64-60 win and advance to the MAC championship game.
"We had a big, big hole we had to dig ourselves out of, but the guys showed a lot of courage in getting back," Hawkins said of the win.
Coming out of a media timeout with 10:29 left in regulation, the Broncos trailed 47-32. It looked to all observers like Akron (21-12), with their partisan crowd, would run away en route to their eighth straight MAC finals appearance.
Just like all season, though, the Broncos wouldn't take no for an answer. Shayne Whittington hit a pair of foul shots out of the time out and WMU was off on an 18-0 tear. Seemingly a blink of an eye later, WMU led for the first time all game at 48-47 as freshman Tucker Haymond took a kick from Connar Tava and buried a three from the right wing.
David Brown added a steal and breakaway layup on the next possession for a three-point edge, but the Zips were able to recover. Demetrius Treadwell put back a miss with 39.6 seconds left to tie the game at 52, and after a Quincy Diggs halfcourt miss, the game appropriately headed to overtime.
The extra frame wasn't free of drama, either, courtesy of first team All-MAC guard David Brown.
Leading 57-55 with under a minute to go in overtime, the Broncos held the ball deep into the shot clock. With about five seconds left before the buzzer, Brown stepped into a 26-foot three pointer that appeared ill-advised, but banked in off the glass for a huge dagger.
"No, not at all," Brown said when asked if he planned the bank shot. "It was just a blessing from God, I guess. A prayer goes a long way, and he gave me one tonight.
Four Brown free throws later, WMU was headed to the MAC finals for the first time since 2004.
It certainly didn't look like that would be the case in the first half as the physical Zips imposed their will and repeatedly broke down WMU's defense for open looks from the outside. Nothing went right for the Broncos, who shot just 8-for-23 (34.8%) from the floor and gave up nine offensive rebounds to the Zips.
"We weren't ourselves in the first half, and Akron had a lot to do with that. We just weren't aggressive, whether or not that was the layoff, I don't know. We didn't commit our first foul until ten minutes, so that's how passive we were," Hawkins said.
Defensive intensity sparked WMU in the second half, and it was clear the Broncos came with more energy even to start the half. WMU chipped away at the lead and had it down to 11 at 41-30 with 13:51 to go, but Akron answered with a 6-2 mini run before WMU's unlikely 18-0 surge.
Demetrius Treadwell scored 18 to lead Akron, who will await their postseason fate and likely be relegated to either the CBI or CIT. Deji Ibatayo added 14 points on 4-of-5 shooting from beyond the arc and Quincy Diggs scored 13. As a team, the Zips hit just 6-of-16 free throws.
With the win, WMU will now await the result of the late game and meet the winner of the Toledo-Eastern Michigan contest for the MAC championship at 6:30pm Saturday evening. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.
BroncoBlitz.com analyst Brian Persky contributed to this report. - See more at: http://westernmichigan.rivals.com/content.asp?CID=1620327#sthash.4J2U2sqP.dpuf