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February 29, 2012Talk about it in The Zoo
Western Michigan's Mike Douglas forced Darrell Lampley to the outside. Shayne Whittington stepped up and contested Lampley's layup. None of the effort mattered in the end, though, as Lampley got his last-ditch shot to fall with one second left and Eastern Michigan celebrated their first outright MAC West title in their history with a 54-53 win over the Broncos at University Arena.
"With it being the first [West title] ever, I'm extremely excited," EMU head coach Rob Murphy said. "Everybody picked us 12th in the MAC, and sixth on our side, and we used that as motivation all year long. I believed in these guys from day one."
Douglas, a senior guard from Detroit, battled hard all night in his final home regular season game, finishing six-for-six from the floor en route to a 15 point, 6 rebound performance. However, his struggles from the free throw line along with his four turnovers and just one assist marred what could have been a special Senior Night. Douglas finished just one-for-four from the line on a night that the Broncos were only 11-for-20, a major storyline in a back and forth game.
Senior forward Flenard Whitfield added 14 points for Western Michigan (12-18, 6-9 Mid-American Conference). Eastern Michigan (14-16, 9-6) was led by Lampley's 15 followed by Antonio Green's 12 on 5-for-7 shooting.
The first half opened with EMU employing their typical methodical, defense-first gameplan. The Broncos clearly came out looking to shoot Eastern out of their trademark 2-3 zone, but results early on were poor as WMU hit one of their ten three point attempts in the first half. With 7:07 to play, Nate Hutcheson took a lob from Demetrius Ward and absorbed contact on a blocking foul while laying it in for a three-point play to give WMU a 17-10 advantage and their biggest lead of the half, but they couldn't parlay that into momentum. EMU came back, and the final 13 seconds of the first half were a flurry of activity as on one end, WMU's Austin Richie drove the baseline and fed Shayne Whittington driving the lane for an emphatic dunk. This was followed by a buzzer beating three by J.R. Sims to give EMU a 26-25 halftime lead.
Eastern opened the second half on a 10-3 run, opening up a 36-28 lead less than four minutes in. Douglas, however, was able to answer with the next eight WMU points to keep the Broncos close. The middle of the second half was characterized by anemic offensive play, as neither team made a field goal for a 7 minute, ten second stretch starting at the 13:21 mark.
The scoring quickened late in the game. With WMU trailing by four and 1:33 on the clock, Brandon Pokely nailed a contested three to cut the lead to 50-49. On WMU's next possession, Flenard Whitfield drew a foul and made one of two free throws to tie the score at 50. After a Derek Thompson runner, Whitfield took a beautiful feed from Matt Stainbrook on a backdoor cut and was fouled as he laid it in. After hitting the free throw, WMU led 53-52, setting up Lampley's heroics. Western had a chance to inbound the ball after Lampley scored with one second remaining, but Whittington's baseball pass went untouched the length of the floor and out of bounds.
"Its one of those losses that's tough to let go," Whitfield said. "As a senior, our job is to keep the guys' heads up, and have them switch their focus to the next game."
The Broncos now must turn their attention to rivals Central Michigan (9-19, 4-10). Much of the discussion at the post-game press conference centered around what it takes to move forward from a heartbreaking loss, and get ready for the next game and beyond.
"The goal, in the back of our head, is of course to cut down the nets in Cleveland and go to the NCAA Tournament," WMU head coach Steve Hawkins said. "That is where our attention turns immediately, and that starts with the game Friday against Central."
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