In what largely resembled a tough, grind-it-out Mid-American Conference battle in mid-February, the Western Michigan Broncos outlasted a determined Roosevelt University 81-60 at University Arena in front of 1,777 fans.
Sophomore point guard Austin Richie led all scorers on Saturday with 16 points on 3-5 shooting, and went 8-10 behind the charity stripe. Bronco big man Shayne Whittington battled down low to contribute 13 points, 2 rebounds, and 1 block.
"We knew they were going to stay with us," Whittington said.
"They're a talented team. We knew they would play with us for a little bit. We just needed to play within ourselves. They're about MAC size, which was probably a good test for our young bigs."
"I thought it was a great game for us," said a pleased head coach Steve Hawkins at the post-game press conference.
"I was really pleased with the two exhibition games. The first game, you've kind of got to break the seal and get out there, run around, and get used to what it's like to play on game day. And then the second game, we were challenged by a very fundamentally sound basketball team and a very well-coached basketball team."
"I told our guys yesterday during practice that I felt like this team would stay with us for quite a while and that we were going to have to play for forty minutes and just be committed to sticking to our system and learning and getting better as the game went on. And I thought that was kind of the way things ended up being."
Seniors Brandon Pokley and Nate Hutcheson tallied 10 points, and 6 points and 9 rebounds, respectively. But it was several freshmen who really made the difference, finally settling in and playing efficient basketball on both ends of the floor for the Broncos.
Freshman point guard Jared Klein scored all of his 11 points in the second half, and freshmen Taylor Perry and A.J. Avery scored 9 of their combined 11 points in the second half as well, to help the Broncos eventually pull away from the Lakers late in the game.
"We were impatient," said Hawkins when explaining the struggles the Broncos faced in the first half against a Roosevelt team that created 21 total turnovers.
"That is a very solid defensive team. You're not going to score on a good defensive team off of one pass. You've got to be more patient."
"You've got to get the defense distorted and chasing you around a little bit. I think that the second group in the first half got a little shaky. But in the second half they came in and did a much better job. We concentrated on reversing the ball two or three times before we even looked for a shot and I feel like we got to running our offense harder which allowed us to get some easier shots for Jared Klein and Taylor Perry. I thought both of those kids ended up with some nice easy shots as a result of our patience."
"The first half I really struggled," said Jared Klein.
"But the coaches talked to me and just helped to boost my confidence up and I came out a little better in the second half. My teammates really helped me out and kept pumping me up throughout the game."
"I think I was letting [Roosevelt] control the game more, and then in the second half I kind of played at our pace more and was a little more confident with the basketball."
Western Michigan jumped out to an assertive 5-0 lead to begin the first half of play with a Shayne Whittington layup and a Brandon Pokley three-point shot. The Lakers quickly responded with several runs of their own and stayed within reach of the Broncos for most of the first half, heading into the locker room down just 35-27.
The game proved to be physical and chippy throughout as guard Austin Richie was hit with a flagrant foul after elbowing Lakers point guard Tyree York with 0:06 remaining in the first half. After video review, the zebra stripes determined the elbow was inadvertent, therefore Richie remained in the game and received a flagrant foul (one).
After continuing to battle back and forth with a stubbornly tough Roosevelt squad, the Broncos finally were able to pull away late in the game after a 10-0 run which featured back-to-back Jared Klein three-pointers, to help the Broncos go up 67-44 with 7:01 remaining.
From there, the Broncos cruised, and several players were able to get on the floor and contribute. In particular, walk-on Nick Stapert added 3 late points and freshman walk-on Von Washington hit a three-pointer on his only attempt with just under 30 seconds left in the game.
Kyle Miklaz's sharp-shooting led the Lakers with 13 points on 3-6 shooting behind the arc and point guard Tyree York added 12 points and 4 assists. The Broncos held senior power forward Brandyn Denson to just 9 points (3-14 FG) and 7 rebounds.
"This is a program that we have seen being built," explained Coach Hawkins.
"The one thing that I know from coaching at an NAIA school in the past, is that where there's scholarship money, there's players. And they have some players."
"They had some really good thickness up front. They have a good quick little point guard that sees the floor well and they're very, very physical away from the ball. We had to work for post position. They've got some big guys in there that absolutely weighed as much as us, and then they put a couple of decent shooters out there. [Kyle Miklasz] can really shoot."
"It was great for us. This was very similar to a MAC basketball game; very physical and that's the way we want to play. So it was a great game for us. And we responded."
The Broncos officially begin the regular season this Saturday, November 10th against a Cornell team that was picked to finish fourth in the Ivy League in most preseason polls.
Western Michigan will likely be without redshirt junior point guard David Brown (knee), and freshman wing Charles Harris (knee). Harris is expected to see a doctor on Tuesday this week.
Freshman Kellen McCormick is considered day-to-day with an ankle injury, and Shayne Whittington (ankle) and Taylor Perry (ankle) are both probable heading into Saturday's game in Ithaca.
Tip-off is slated for 12:00 p.m. ET.