Shayne Whittington and Javon McCrea fought each other hard inside all night long. In the end, the battle of the big men turned out to be a microcosm of the game at large.
Both players put up impressive double-doubles, but Whittington got the upper hand in the end as Western Michigan downed Buffalo Saturday night, 71-60.
McCrea came in far more heralded, having earned Preseason All-MAC honors and sitting in second in the conference in scoring, and he didn't disappoint with 22 points and 10 rebounds.
"He's a strong individual," Whittington said of the 6-foot-7, 250 pound forward. "He's got great post moves. You think you have him stopped one way, and he'll pivot the other way, then back the other way again."
Whittington, however, sparkled even more. After his struggles against Akron big man Zeke Marshall, the Paw Paw native redeemed himself with a 23 point, 14 rebound effort that puts him among the top post players in the conference.
It was the sixth double-double of the season for the 6-foot-10 Whittington, which is the most for a Bronco since Joe Reitz posted six in the 2007-08 season.
"I was really happy to see that he took 18 shots," WMU head coach Steve Hawkins said. "In the past, if he had missed a couple of the shots he missed earlier he'd have turned himself into a passer. Tonight he kept shooting, and the guys kept finding him."
The game was marked by an abundance of fouls in the second half, where the teams combined for 38 fouls and 49 free throw attempts.
In a game where outside shooting was at a premium, perhaps the difference in the end was WMU's second option in the paint, Darius Paul. The Broncos collected 15 offensive rebounds and 16 second chance points, and six of those boards came from the freshman Paul while the Bulls had few options in the paint beyond McCrea.
"Pretty much [Whittington] drawing so much attention," Paul said when asked what allowed his success on the glass. "I just had to keep finding lanes and keep crashing the glass."
David Brown was the third double-digit scorer for Western Michigan (14-7, 6-2 Mid-American Conference). Brown, still fresh off of a knee injury, had an efficient 13 points in a season-high 27 minutes, shooting 4-of-6 from the floor and 2-of-2 from beyond the arc.
He also made a few notable hustle plays, particularly midway through the second half when he beat the crowd to a loose ball at midcourt and batted it ahead to Taylor Perry, who drew a foul and hit a pair of free throws for a 50-42 lead.
"He's got a nose for the ball," Hawkins said of Brown. "It appears to me that his joy for the game is evident. It's evident in practice, too. You can see him just having fun playing the game and getting himself lost out there."
The win is the sixth straight for WMU, who will return to University Arena Wednesday night for a matchup with East Division foe Kent State.
Buffalo falls to 8-14 overall (3-5 MAC) and will visit Ypsilanti Wednesday to take on Eastern Michigan.