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March 5, 2012

Broncos hold off Ball State, head to Cleveland

The Western Michigan men's basketball team used a balanced attack to erase a first half deficit, keeping the pressure on Ball State in the second half as the Broncos beat the Cardinals 69-63 in the first round of the 2012 First Energy MAC Tournament. With the win, the Broncos improve to 13-19 on the season, and will face the Northern Illinois Huskies in the second round of the tournament, played at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
The Broncos' had five players score in double figures, led by senior forward Flenard Whitfield with 12 points. Mike Douglas added just five points, but what important points they were; Douglas went 5 of 6 from the free throw line in the final two minutes of play to keep the Cardinals at arm's length in the waning moments. BSU's Jarrod Jones cut the Broncos' lead to just two points with 33 seconds remaining, but Douglas would add four straight free throws to up the Broncos' lead to six points with 19 seconds remaining, a lead they would ultimately maintain for the win.

The Broncos overcame an early-game surge from the Cardinals in the first half, battling against an early deficit to take the lead entering half. The Broncos trailed by as many as nine points on two occasions, the first coming at the 13:40 mark of the first half when Jesse Berry scored on a lay-up to give BSU a 13-4 lead. The nine-point lead would stand until the 12:34 mark, when Dan Loney tipped in an offensive rebound to cut the deficit to 15-7. Shayne Whittington would make a pair of free throws at the 11:50 mark to cut the lead to seven points, and would throw down a two-handed dunk at the 11:28 mark to cut the Cardinals' lead to 15-12.

After chipping away slowly, the Broncos took the lead for the first time when Demetrius Ward hit Austin Richie streaking to the hoop for an easy lay-up at the 7:45 mark, giving WMU a 20-19 lead. Ward would knock down a three from the right wing to stretch the lead to four points, and the Broncos would eventually take a five-point lead in the final two minutes of the half. Richie would step in front of a Jesse Berry pass and take it the other way, finding Matt Stainbrook under the hoop for a fast break lay-up to make it 31-26.

Dan Loney preserved the five-point lead with a short jumper after taking a pass from Stainbrook, but the Cardinals' Berry scored on a mid-range jumper to cut the Broncos' lead to 33-30 at the break. The Broncos would extend that lead to nine points at the 17:44 mark of the second half when Richie scored on a fast break lay-up to make it 39-30 and force the Cardinals to burn a timeout.

WMU reached its biggest lead of the night on the backs of their big men; Whittington grabbed an offensive rebound at the 14:04 mark and tipped it in to give the Broncos a 43-35 lead, and Stainbrook would score just 33 seconds later to give the Broncos their first double-digit lead of the night.

The Cardinals would push back, however, and tie the score at 45-45 when Jones scored on a lay-up in the paint. The Broncos didn't roll over, however, and re-took the lead on a Stainbrook tip-in at the 9:08 mark. Demetrius Ward knocked down a three from the right corner to extend the lead to five points, and the Broncos were able to give themselves a comfortable cushion en route to the victory.

Next up

WMU will take on Northern Illinois (5-24) in Cleveland on Wednesday, after NIU helped the Broncos out by upsetting Eastern Michigan 55-52 in Ypsilanti. The winner will face 4th-seeded Kent State in the quarterfinals.

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