Record-setting Broncos win first MAC tourney title
March 13, 2004
CLEVELAND--Senior forward Mike Williams scored 28 points, leading Western Michigan University's men's basketball team to a 77-66 win over Kent State and the Broncos' first Mid-American Conference Tournament championship.
Playing tonight before 10,868 fans in Cleveland's Gund Arena and a national television audience, WMU earned the league's automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament with its school-record 26th victory (26-4) of the season. The crowd, including a large contingent from Kalamazoo, was the third biggest for the MAC championship game in the 25-year history of the tournament.
"It was very special and very emotional for us," said coach Steve Hawkins, "I'm very proud of our kids."
The Broncos are making their third trip to the NCAA Tournament and have won their first game in each of the two previous appearances. In 1976, they defeated Virginia Tech in the first round, 77-67 in overtime, and lost to Marquette in the second round, 62-57. In 1998, WMU defeated Clemson, 75-72, in the opening round, before falling to Stanford, 83-65.
Williams, the MAC Player of the Year, earned tournament MVP honors. In addition to his game-high 28 points, he grabbed seven rebounds and hit his first career three-pointer with 55 seconds left to put the Broncos up by seven, 69-62. WMU is 13-0 this season when Williams scores 20 points or more.
Carding his eighth double-double of the season, senior center Anthony Kann finished with 17 points and a game-high 12 rebounds. Together with MVP Williams, Kann was named to the all-tournament team. Junior guard Ben Reed finished with 16 points. He was 8-for-8 from the free-throw line, with all eight coming in the second half. He is only the second player to finish perfect at the free-throw stripe in a MAC championship contest.
Kent State held a one-point advantage, 37-36, at halftime on strong three-point shooting. WMU used a 15-9 run in the first 13:31 of the second half to lead 51-46. Kent got to within three, 65-62, with 3:25 to go, but WMU made 9-of-10 from the free-throw line in the final three minutes of the game to seal the 11-point victory.
Entering the tournament with a league-best 15-3 MAC record and the No. 1 seed, WMU earned a bye in the opening round. In previous tournament action, the Broncos defeated Marshall, 96-62, in Thursday's quarterfinal contest, and won, 87-77, over Toledo in Friday's semifinal game. Ironically, WMU's only three MAC losses in regular season came at the hands of the same three teams--Marshall, Toledo and Kent State--that the Broncos defeated on consecutive nights to win the MAC Tournament.
Update: WMU lost, 71-58, to Vanderbilt in the first round of the 2004 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. The game was played March 19 in Orlando, Fla.
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