WMU went 1-2 during its three-game trip in Nashville, dropping its opener on Thanksgiving Day to three-time reigning Southland Conference champion Stephen F. Austin (79-71) and defeating Liberty (68-58) on Friday.
Mercer got off to a red-hot start against the Broncos, sinking 9 of its first 11 shots, including 4 of 4 from behind the arc. The Bears led by as many as 15, 24-9, with 11:11 to go in the first half. Western Michigan weathered the storm and held Mercer to just 4 of 12 shooting the rest of the half.
The Broncos began to chip away offensively, led by sophomore Thomas Wilder’s 11 points in the first half. A coast to coast steal and layup by Wilder capped a 7-0 run that cut the deficit to five, 33-28, with 1:41 left in the half. The Bears’ Demetre Rivers converted a three-point play to give Mercer a 36-28 advantage at the half.
“Unfortunately, with the hot shooting at the beginning, we were playing catch up the rest of the game,” said WMU head coach Steve Hawkins. “Finally things settled in to what we thought it would look like and from that point on, we won the game.
“I told our kids I was incredibly proud of their effort. In all four of our losses, we have shown incredible determination and some grit.”
After trailing by 12 early in the second half, WMU worked Mercer’s lead down to four, 51-47, with 9:54 left to play. Junior Kellen McCormick had a look at a three that could have cut the deficit to one, however his shot missed and Mercer was able to convert back-to-back layups.
The Broncos gave one last final push in the final four minutes. Down six, Klein hit a big three in the corner with 2:24 left to play. Then, trailing by four, Klein stole a pass and finished on the break, pulling WMU within two, 64-62, with 34 seconds left.
In the double bonus, Mercer hit three of its next four free throws. Trailing by five, 67-62, Klein drained a long three from the top of the key with 11 seconds left to again put WMU down two. The Broncos fouled immediately on the inbounds. Mercer’s Phillip Leonard made the first of two free throws and WMU’s Anthony Avery Jr. grabbed the defensive rebound. Haymond’s final shot over two defenders at the top of the key rimmed in and out at the buzzer.
Haymond, WMU’s leading scorer entering the contest at 18.2 points per game, was held without a field goal until he knocked down a three with 4:16 remaining. He finished with six points.
Wilder ended his evening with 15 points and was named to the All-Tournament Team after averaging a team-high 14.7 points per game over the three contests.
The Broncos shot 40.7 percent from the floor while Mercer hit 52.2 percent for the game. WMU lost the rebounding battle, 38-29, but turned the ball over just eight times to Mercer’s 16.
“In these first seven games over 16 days, I think we have found the good, the bad and the ugly,” Hawkins said. “I thought tonight we got into a rhythm offensively and our fast break looked good. I thought our defense looked a lot better, forcing 16 turnovers.”
Western Michigan (3-4 record) heads to James Madison for a 7 p.m. Dec. 3 contest before beginning a three-game homestand that includes Northeastern (Dec. 7), Marygrove (Dec. 12) and IPFW (Dec. 22). WMU closes out the 2015 calendar year by returning to Nashville to face Vanderbilt on Dec. 30.