Western Michigan got off to a 12-5 lead and held a 22-18 advantage with 8:27 left in the first half. That's when the Seahawks kicked it into high gear, stepping up the pressure on the WMU guards, forcing the Broncos into 12 first-half turnovers. UNCW also began to knock down shots, hitting eight first half threes.
The Broncos lead quickly . . .
UNCW carried its large lead for most of the second half and maintained a 17-point margin with 4:33 left in the game. Western Michigan easily could have tossed in the towel, but the Broncos instead fought back to pull within five points with 27 seconds remaining.
"Losing stinks. It always stinks, but I loved the way our guys fought tonight," said WMU head coach Steve Hawkins. "The story of the night was the last 10 minutes of the first half when the game got away from us. In the second half, we went a little bit smaller, and we were much more aggressive on the offensive side. We were able to get better shots in the second and we converted on them, which allowed us to get our defense set."
Western Michigan freshman guard Reggie Jones came off the bench to provide a spark, scoring a season-high 16 points - all of which came in the second half. As UNCW pressured the Broncos' primary ball-handlers, the 6-6 Jones demonstrated his diversity. Jones was able to push the ball up the floor and attack the basket, which gave WMU new offensive life.
"UNCW's guards did a great job of pressuring the ball and we struggled getting the ball down low, so we decided to go smaller and put Reggie in for another ball handler," Hawkins said. "I thought Reggie was terrific tonight. He is a big guard and once he gets going downhill, he can find people. He can finish, and he's a great ball handler."
Jones was one of four Broncos to reach double figures in the high-scoring affair. UNCW had five of its players record double figures.
Senior Tucker Haymond was the game's leading scorer with 24 points, going 9-for-14 from the field and 5-for-7 from the line. Haymond also dished out four assists.
Junior guard Thomas Wilder got into foul trouble early in the second half and wound up fouling out with 1:47 left to go. He still managed 22 points, five rebounds and three assists.
Freshman Brandon Johnson continued to impress, tallying his third double-double of the season with 10 points and a game-high 14 rebounds.
C.J. Bryce led two-time defending Colonial Athletic Association champion UNCW (5-1) with 18 points and eight rebounds.
The Seahawks shot 50.8 percent for the game and knocked down 12 threes. WMU only hit four three-pointers, but shot a season-high 54.7 percent from the field.
"We have to stay positive and optimistic this early in the year when we've had a few losses," Hawkins said. "Anyone can come to work when you win but the mentally tough can come to work when things get tough, and that's where we have to be."
WMU (2-5) will take a week's rest before heading to Cleveland State on Dec. 7. The game will be played at Quicken Loans Arena, home of the Mid-American Conference Tournament and the Cleveland Cavaliers. James Madison visits University Arena on Dec. 10.
(Courtesy of WMU Athletics)