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February 17, 2013

David Brown ignites spark yet again, WMU beats NIU 66-58 in thrilling comeback

The Broncos fought back in the final minutes against a Northern Illinois team that came to Kalamazoo looking for revenge. David Brown once again provided the spark for WMU in a thrilling 66-58 come from behind victory to snap a two-game losing streak.

Western Michigan got out to a quick early start after senior shooting guard Brandon Pokley knocked down two rare mid-range jumpers to give the Broncos an early 6-2 edge.

However the Broncos would go into an offensive drought over the course of a 4:36 minute stretch, as Northern Illinois would open up a 12-7 advantage thanks in part to a 10-0 run. The Huskies continued to control the game throughout much of the first half retaining a five-point lead heading into the locker room, 37-32.

The Broncos came out in the second half with an encouraging response, provided by freshman forward, Connar Tava -- who got the start in place of the injured Darius Paul -- with two aggressive baskets in the paint to trim the NIU lead to just one point.

"It was a little different," Tava responded when asked about starting. "I'm just trying to do the things I do when I come off the bench. I'm not trying to do too much."

Western Michigan continued to slowly chip away at the Northern Illinois lead much of the second half with contributions from Shayne Whittington and Connar Tava, but the Huskies seemed to have a response for every mini-Bronco run.

With 6:33 left in the game, head coach Steve Hawkins decided to insert Darius Paul into the game for his first game action of the night, in hopes of busting NIU's zone defense. The experiment didn't last long, however, as Tava re-entered the game to provide another spark to trim the NIU lead to 58-52 with under three minutes remaining.

Shortly thereafter, redshirt junior David Brown chucked up a deep three-ball and came up with a timely steal and transition basket to cut the lead to just one.

"I want to say it was a little bit of frustration, not helping the team like I'm normally used to," said Brown recalling the final minutes. "I have to give all the credit to my teammates. They stuck with me and told me that my time would come. I just give all the credit to my teammates having faith in me and sticking with me."

Following the basket, NIU's Darrell Bowie was called for an illegal inbound pass, and the Broncos took advantage immediately on an Austin Richie three-pointer with 1:24 remaining.

The long-range shot gave the Broncos their first lead of the game since the 15-minute mark when they led 7-6. On the next defensive possession, the Broncos came up with a stop and yet another David Brown conversion on the other end giving them a 62-58 lead with 35 seconds left.

An Austin Richie steal with 24 seconds remaining all but sealed the deal for the Broncos as they closed the game on a 16-0 run, and WMU cruised to a 66-58 victory. The crowd of 3,569 was the largest of the year.

"I thought it was a typical MAC basketball game," said head coach Steve Hawkins. "A lot of folks probably came here tonight expecting a blowout. and you just can't do that in this league. You watch film on NIU and they just play so hard. They do everything well."

"You've got to be prepared to grind games out especially at the end of the year when teams are playing better, players are gaining confidence, and teams have their backs against the wall. So I thought our guys hung in there, grinded it out, and had a much better defensive effort in the second half."

Shayne Whittington finished with 15 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 blocks, and Connar Tava and Austin Richie finished with 12 and 11 respectively. David Brown finished the game with 10 points. Aksel Bolin led all NIU scorers with 10 points.

The Broncos are back in action next Saturday at University Arena against Pacific for the annual ESPN BracketBuster game.

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