By: Bryan E. Paas
The Broncos led by two with 18 minutes to go in the first half before Duke stepped on the gas and never looked back.
After four straight wins, including their 91-76 victory on the road against Oakland, the Broncos season looked to be headed in the right direction after their initial 0-6 start.
Western displayed great poise and aggression in all their wins this season especially in their last three games in which they faced three teams in Duquesne, Winthrop, and Oakland all quality teams in their respective conferences and all teams that have NCAA tournament experience. In those games the Broncos knew they belonged, they knew that they were on the same tier as these schools, and they knew that they were just as, if not more talented than all three teams. It showed on the court.
Friday night however, the Broncos digressed in their 110-70 loss (their second of the season by 40 or more points) against Duke. Not only did the Broncos feel they did not belong, they played as if they didn’t belong on the same planet as Duke, and for 40 minutes Friday night, maybe the didn’t.
As good of a team as Duke is, WMU should not have lost by 40 points. What went on Friday night was inexcusable. The Broncos played, scared, lazy, and just looked like they were happy to be in the same gym as the Blue Devils.
While the Broncos were down 23 points late in the first half, Western lost its heart when Ryan Kelly of Duke hit a 3-pointer at the 3:23 mark that would start and 11 point run for the Blue Devils in just 4 possessions. On 3 of the possessions, their was no one with in six feet of the shooter. Including the third straight possession in the 11 point run in which Ryan Kelly again ran a pick and roll to be wide open in the corner.
Their was no aggression on either side of the ball and although Duke shot 34-63 from the field for 54 percent, its pretty easy to do when there is no one contesting shots.
While in no way did I truly expect WMU to beat Duke, I did expect them to compete and play with fire and passion. Every year mid-major teams like WMU knock off some big teams. It’s happened this year in fact, most notably with Wagner knocking off 22nd ranked Pittsburgh at Pittsburgh.
Although it was unlikely that WMU was going to walk away with the win, its not too much to expect your school to compete. I don’t like questioning the heart of a team, especially a team that has gone through so many lineup changes and has been plagued by injuries like the Broncos have, but Friday night I did question it.
After losing their second game by more than 40 points I hope this was a wake up call to the Broncos. I hope Stainbrook, Hutcheson, Ward, Douglas and Richie look back on this as a learning experience and realize that while they may not be on the same tier as Duke, that doesn’t mean that they can’t play with the same amount of heart.
If the Broncos do learn from this and dig deep the rest of the season, there is no reason that they can’t knock off one or two teams in the tournament come March. It starts by winning the MAC this year, but if they can manage to do that, sky’s the limit.