The Broncos jumped out to a comfortable lead that got as high as twelve points in the first half and eighteen points in the second. The hot start was crucial against the visiting Northern Illinois Huskies who came into the game boasting a 17-11 (10-5) record, while Western Michigan 11-17 (5-10) at tipoff has struggled to gain prolonged momentum throughout Mid-American Conference play.
Western Michigan carried a 32-24 lead into the half thanks to a couple familiar faces: Michael Flowers and Brandon Johnson. The pair each tallied 20-points on Saturday afternoon and gave the Broncos a necessary offensive duo to compete with NIU’s prolific offense. NIU standout, Eugene German, did not play in the first half and proved to be a difference maker in the second. German has been suspended twice this season and it has been clear that the Huskies are a different team without him in the lineup.
The big first half with a German-less NIU was crucial for WMU and proved to be increasingly important as NIU closed things in the second half. WMU was not done extending their lead despite German entering the game, however, as teams took the court after the break and pushed the game as far apart as 18 points with only 8:48 left in the game. The run was due in large part to the Broncos ability to apply firm defensive pressure that kept NIU’s offensive efficiency uncharacteristically low.
Trailing big with less than half way to go in the second, NIU finally made their move and the shots began to fall. The Huskies began rushing back and got the score to within single digits just over two minutes later and to within a one-possession game with 3:33 left to go.
Fans watched with baited breath as they wondered if the collapse would prove to be one of the great letdowns of the season, especially in a game that the Broncos had controlled so handily. In the course of just five minutes, Western Michigan went from blowing out the visiting Huskies en route to a lopsided upset to risking a devastating loss at home.
Those fears were not alleviated when NIU’s Eugene German, who finished with 23 points in only one half of play, went to the free throw line and tied the game at 67-all with 1:41 on the clock. WMU’s standout guard, Michael Flowers, answered on the following possession and gave the Broncos a temporary lead before German tied the game again at 69-all with only 33-seconds left to play.
WMU took possession with one last chance to put the game away. That is when the Broncos took advantage of the collapsing help-side NIU defense and kicked the ball out to senior guard, Jared Printy, who had been mostly quiet on the offensive end all afternoon.
Printy handled the pass, rose up for the corner and dropped it for three points to give the Broncos the lead and fans a reason to go wild with just 5-seconds remaining. The Huskies called timeout and had one last chance to tie the game on a half court three point shot by German that gave fans one last gasp as it clanked off the iron at the buzzer. The miss sealed the big upset at home and gave the Broncos some much-needed momentum going into their final games in back-to-back contests against their Michigan MAC rivals.
The Broncos improved to 12-17 (6-10) and the Huskies fall to a mirror image record of 17-12 (10-6). Western Michigan closes their home schedule for senior night against Eastern Michigan on March 3rd and on the road against Central Michigan on March 6. Both games will be exciting contests and should give fans competitive basketball as we prepare for post-season play.
The Mid-American Conference has been a tale of Home vs. Away all season and Saturday’s contest was no different. The season-long advantage home teams have maintained this year in the MAC will be tested on the neutral site of Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland after first round contests at campus sites.