Western Michigan's men's basketball team didn't have much expected of it this season. Picked third in a weak Mid-American Conference West Division, the Broncos instead took the West crown and came into last night's College Basketball Invitational semi-final with 22 wins, the most since 2003-04.
For a while, it looked as if WMU would continue its improbable run, as they found themselves leading George Mason 17-8 after a Brandon Pokley jumper with 11:23 to go in the first half.
Unfortunately, fatigue seemed to rear its head shortly after, as WMU missed a number of open shots in the middle part of the half before allowing the George Mason press to get to them down the stretch.
By the 2:22 mark of the first half, the Patriots had reeled off an 18-0 run to take a 25-17 lead that they would not relinquish the rest of the way.
Western Michigan (22-13) never really mounted a serious comeback the rest of the way. Jonathan Arledge, who led the Patriots with 23 points, hit a three right out of the second half gate to put George Mason up 30-20, and the Broncos would not get any closer than a seven point deficit the rest of the night.
For the game, WMU committed 23 turnovers, which the Patriots converted into 22 points. In one key stretch during GMU's first half run, the Broncos turned the ball over five times in six possessions.
Optimism is high around the program, however, as the CBI semifinals run caps a season that few saw coming. While WMU loses seniors Nate Hutcheson, Brandon Pokley and Dan Loney, most major contributors will return on a 2013-14 team that figures to be among the top contenders in the MAC.
George Mason (21-14), meanwhile, extends their campaign for at least two more games. The Patriots will take on Santa Clara (24-11) of the West Coast Conference in a best-of-three set starting Monday to decide the CBI Championship.
Despite a slow start for the junior, guard David Brown used a late stretch to lead WMU with 13 points, while Shayne Whittington and Brandon Pokley also reached double figures with 12 and 10, respectively.
The Broncos held Patriots leading scorer Sherrod Wright to just nine points on a 16.8 scoring average, but Arledge burned WMU with 23 points on 7-of-11 shooting and 8-of-8 from the free throw line. George Mason shot 24-of-28 (85.7%) from the charity stripe for the night.
Western Michigan's loss also marks the end of the MAC basketball season, as WMU was the final team standing in the postseason from the conference. Akron (2nd round NCAA), Ohio (1st round NIT) and Kent State (2nd round CIT) also reached postseason play.
The Championship Series of the CBI will take place next Monday, Wednesday, and Friday (if necessary) on AXS TV.