Broncos basketball picked up a first key win in a 75-65 over McNeese State on Wednesday night at University Arena, moving them to 1-0 on the season.
Junior Michael Flowers had a game high 24 points with three rebounds and three assists on the night, while freshman B. Artis White contributed huge in his first collegiate game with 20 points and three rebounds.
“It was a long offseason, we all know what went on last year so it felt good to come back and get that first win,” Flowers said.
WMU ended the first half with a 42-31 lead and on a 14-10 run over the last 5 minutes. Thanks to the Broncos having a hot start from the three point line going 8-of-17 compared to McNeese State going just 1-of-7 from beyond the arc.
Helping that offensive start was Flowers, finishing the half with 14 points and going 4of-4 from three point land, while senior Jared Printy came off the bench and made a big impact, shooting 3 of-4 on three's for nine points.
The bulk of the first half points coming from an eight minute stretch where the Broncos outscored the Cowboys 26-15 in the middle of the half. Scoring was spread out but mostly was done outside of the paint during that time.
Making a huge name for himself early on in this season is freshman B. Artis White. Although he finished the first half third on the team in points with seven in that first half, he has been flying around the court showing off his speed and hustle throughout, seeming like he has been everywhere the ball is.
“I love B. Artis, that’s my guy, he’s great for us,” Flowers said about Whites role on the team. “He’s quick, he can find you and he can shoot so they have to honor him.”
Not looking like he missed a beat from his torn meniscus last year, redshirt junior Brandon Johnson has been making his presence felt around the court with five points and four rebounds. More than on the statsheet he has been seen as a calming presence on the court as well, being a source of leadership for this young team while Flowers is on the bench.
“I was just so happy to see him out on the court after missing a year,” head coach Steve Hawkins said.
While the Broncos made their game from beyond the arc, McNeese State had the opposite attitude, with 20 of their 31 first half points coming from in the paint, senior Shamarkus Kennedy and junior A.J. Lawson both having eight points.
The Broncos cleaned up their turnover problems from the exhibition against Kalamazoo College with only four turnovers in the first half. The two teams finished about even with rebounds as WMU picked up 14 and McNeese State having 15.
In the second half, the Broncos picked up right where they left off in the first with the three point shot early on.
After WMU went inside for some easy baskets against a McNeese State team extending their pressure to get stops, White hit back-to-back threes to give the Broncos a comfortable 52-34 lead with 15:29 remaining in the game.
Hawkins said he was impressed with how White handled his first regular season game as a Bronco.
“B. Artis obviously had a big night from a points standpoint,” Hawkins said. “But more importantly he ran the team, he looked calm out there. That was great to see, he handles the ball well and he’s a very talented player.”
The Cowboys were trying everything defensively to slow down the Broncos hot shooting, but it was to no avail. A 1-3-1 zone employed by McNeese saw White hit another three over it with just over 13 minutes to go in the half to stretch the lead to 20 points.
McNeese would not let the Broncos pull away however, as they used a 15-0 run of their own to cut the Broncos lead to 5 midway through the half.
During the run, the Broncos suddenly had a hard time against the zone of the Cowboys and had trouble finding consistent baskets.
Hawkins said the zone had an effect on his offense as the Cowboys held the Broncos to 8-of-32 shooting (25%) in the second half.
“One of the things that I had talked about pregame with our guys is that one of the hardest things to do is to play this first game,” Hawkins said. “We had no idea what they were going to do. We had a little bit of film when they played on their summer tour, but that was it. We didn’t know if they would come out man-to-man or if they threw a zone at us what kind it was going to be.”
At the second to last media timeout, the Cowboys trimmed the Broncos lead to six with 7:38 to play.
But WMU would respond, as they pushed their lead back to 10 with just over five minutes to play, Flowers dove on the floor for a loose ball and found freshman Titus Wright finished the pass from Flowers at the rim to make it 67-55 WMU.
At the last media timeout, the Broncos held a 67-58 lead with four minutes to play.
The Cowboys would try to rally late as they cut the lead to six, but a big block on the defensive end by Johnson helped the Broncos seal the win as they iced it from the free throw line.
Western shot 36% from the field overall compared to the Cowboys 47%. The game was won for the Broncos at the three point and foul line, as WMU made 22 free throws compared to the Cowboys eight and also hit six more three pointers.
WMU did not have another player score in double figures other than Flowers and White.
For McNeese State, guard A.J Lawson led them with 21 points while forward Shamarkus Kennedy had 15.
The Broncos will be in action next when they go on the road to face the Milwaukee Panthers. Tip-off for that game will be at 7 p.m.