Savage Hall at the University of Toledo is one of the toughest places to play in the MAC. Going into Saturday night, the Broncos of Western Michigan were foundering below .500, a few games out of first in the MAC West Division, which every year is always up for grabs, usually with mere days left in the regular season. Saturday night at Toledo was their last chance to put together a string of wins to be able to have a chance at a good seed come tournament time and show they have a legitimate chance at winning the 2012 MAC Tournament Championship.
Toledo has been finding its identity under second-year head coach Tod Kowalczyk, but has always seemed to play well at home. Before a lopsided win in 2008 en route to a runaway MAC West Divisional title, WMU hadn't won in Toledo in something ungodly like 15 straight trips dating back to the mid 1990s. But since then, the broncos have only been able to secure one more win. Luckily, with Toledo being only one hour from the Detroit area and just two hours from Kalamazoo, the Broncos always seem to being a strong road presence.
For a team that is known for its defense, WMU let the first half of the game turn into a shootout. The matchup between Matt Stainbrook and Toledo's post players made it an easy day for Stainbrook as he scored 12 of his team's first 15. The first half was certainly wild enough with the first-half score of 44-41 (usually the average score of most high school games!). WMU shot 56 percent, while Toledo shot 58 percent from the field. Clearly, defense was not in anyone's vocabulary!
Throughout the game, missed free throws cost WMU the game. Several missed foul shots helped widen the gap and a few shots here and there and before you knew it, WMU was down almost 18. It was a seemingly insurmountable lead. However, WMU's Brandon Pokely stepped up for the Bronco's coming off the bench to add that extra spark and make a couple of three point jumpers to help cut into the lead.
The ending of this game was rather unusual. With 42.1 seconds left, the Broncos trailed by just four points, 78-74. But once Toledo secured the ball, there was no press, no intentional foul, no nothing out of WMU. It was a mere two-possession game with time to spare and the WMU seemed content with just letting Toledo run nearly a whole possession of time off the clock. It's not clear whether this was a strategy that backfired or if there was a miscommunication. But Toledo ended up hitting all their free throws to close out the game 83-74, leaving the Broncos with another tough loss on the road and asking themselves, "Now what???"
at TOLEDO 83, WESTERN MICHIGAN 74 02/25/2012
WESTERN MICHIGAN 12-17 (6-8) -- A. Johnson 1-12 2-4 5; F. Whitfield 6-12 3-4 15; M. Douglas 5-11 0-0 10; D. Ward 4-14 0-0 10; N. Hutcheson 2-5 3-3 8; B. Pokley 3-5 0-0 8; M. Stainbrook 6-7 2-4 14; A. Richie 1-2 0-0 2; S. Whittington 1-2 0-0 2; M. Conteh 1-2 0-0 2; D. Loney 1-1 1-3 3. Totals 30-61 9-14 74. TOLEDO 15-14 (6-8) -- J. Brown 5-13 3-4 14; D. Buckley 5-9 4-4 16; R. Pearson 5-11 5-5 15; C. Dennis 3-9 1-2 10; R. Holliday 4-7 0-1 9; M. Smith 6-10 1-2 15; R. Wonnell 1-2 0-0 2; D. Dear 1-1 0-0 2; A. Mathew 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 30-62 14-18 83.
Three-point goals: WMU 5-17 (D. Ward 2-8; M. Douglas 0-2; B. Pokley 2-4; N. Hutcheson 1-2; A. Richie 0-1), TOL 9-19 (D. Buckley 2-4; C. Dennis 3-7; M. Smith 2-3; R. Holliday 1-3; J. Brown 1-2); Rebounds: WMU 33 (F. Whitfield 8), TOL 30 (R. Pearson 8); Assists: WMU 13 (F. Whitfield 6), TOL 17 (J. Brown 7); Total Fouls -- WMU 18, TOL 18; Fouled Out: WMU-None; TOL-None.