Western Michigan basketball was looking for a bounce back game after dropping their first contest last Friday at Ole Miss. And the Broncos were able to do that in a big way on Tuesday night with a 102-56 win over Division III Alma College at University Arena to move to 4-1 for the first time since 2012.
The Broncos, however, had some difficulty at the start of the game. Alma started off hitting seven of their first 10 threes of the game to go up 25-14 in the first 10 minutes.
The charge was led by Alma guard Cole Kleiver, who hit five of his first seven shots, including 4-of-5 from behind the arc.
Kleiver finished with 14 points in the first half and 18 points for the game to lead Alma College.
Head coach Steve Hawkins was not impressed with his team’s start.
“We were letting them play H-O-R-S-E out there,” Hawkins said. “We did not do a great job defensively and they played very well offensively. They got some really good looks at the rim, Kleiver can really shoot it. Once you let anybody start playing with confidence, things can snowball.”
Western responded with a 9-2 run after extending their pressure on defense and speeding up the tempo of the game. After a Brandon Johnson three from the corner, the Broncos cut the Alma lead to 27-23 with 7:30 to play in the first half.
WMU took their first lead since they were up 5-3 in the early stages of the game on a B. Artis White three-pointer from the right wing with about five minutes to go in the half, but had a hard time pulling away as Alma crawled back to a 33-30 lead at the last media timeout.
In the final 3:17 of the half, the Broncos would finally wake up and find the energy they needed. A 17-2 spurt at the end of the half gave the Broncos a 47-35 lead going into the locker room. The run was led by guard Michael Flowers, who scored the last eight points of the half for the Broncos, including a strong take to the basket for an and-one and a transition three pointer to give WMU some cushion.
Flowers finished the half with 12 points while Johnson chipped in with 11.
Hawkins was pleased how the team responded late in the half and said Flowers has the ability to take over a game.
“Mike got a whole different look in his eye. I could tell when things flipped in his head,” Hawkins said. “He just gets a different mentality, we saw that at Milwaukee. He gets very aggressive with the ball and he’s very good at taking tough shots. There are a lot of shots he takes that I wouldn’t want other guys to take.”
In the second half, the Broncos picked up right where they left off from the end of the first. They stretched their lead to 20 points at 55-35 about three minutes into the first half after a B. Artis White transition three pointer.
WMU would extend their lead to 69-44 after a Flowers basket and a foul. From there, the Broncos turned to the bench and made wholesale changes with a comfortable lead.
Junior Rafael Cruz came off the WMU bench to extend the WMU lead to 30 at 74-44 with a three from the top of the arc with just over 12 minutes to go in the game.
Cruz would stay hot from beyond the arc as he buried another three from the right wing to give the Broncos their biggest lead of the game at 32 points about midway through the half.
Hawkins said he was happy with the way the bench played once his Broncos were able to take control of the game.
“They were locked in. Obviously Rafael (Cruz, Jr.) knocked down shots. He is capable of doing that and we needed someone else to show their ability to score and gain confidence.”
With just over five minutes to go in the game, it was Cruz once again making a play, this time on a left handed scoop to the basket to put the Broncos up 91-51. Cruz finished with a game-high 22 points on 7-of-10 shooting and 4-of-5 from three point range.
WMU would continue to pour it on in the second half as senior Adida Ikongshul converted a basket and a foul to give WMU a 45-point lead with four minutes to play.
Ikongshul, a senior was one of five Broncos in double figures with 10 points off the bench. He said he was excited to get in the game and show what he could do.
“I was really going at it in practice yesterday because I really, really wanted to play,” Ikongshul said. “I kept the same mentality today, I barely talked to anyone, which is unusual of me. So when I went in there I was like ‘I don’t see anyone out here that can stop me’ so I just went out there and did what I needed to do.”
The Broncos would hit the 100-point mark for the game on an Ikongshul free throw with just over a minute to play as they cruised to the 46-point victory.
For WMU, Flowers finished the night with 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting with six assists. Johnson also had a nice game with 13 points and seven rebounds while White chipped in with 15.
As a team, the Broncos shot 52% from the field and 44% from three while holding Alma to 32% from the floor and 26% from beyond the arc.
Western Michigan will next be in action on Friday, Nov. 22 when they travel to Oklahoma State to play the Cowboys. That game will tip off at 8 p.m. and be available on ESPN Plus.
Hawkins said after the game that forward Kawanise “Squeaky” Wilkins will miss 4-6 weeks with a “second degree MCL sprain.” Hawkins said they hope to get him back for the start of conference play.