TAMPA – Western Michigan spoiled USF’s shot at a perfect
The Broncos snapped the Bulls’ two-game winning streak
Sunday with a 58-53 victory that gave Western Michigan coach Steve Hawkins his
300th career win. The Bulls started the weekend off with convincing
wins over Maryland Eastern Shore and Loyola-Chicago at the Sun Dome before
slipping to 2-2 this season.
“I truly did not know it until it happened. To be able to
get the win and reward the kids for a great effort was most important,” said
Hawkins, whose 4-1 Broncos won the Invitational with a 3-0 run and have won
four in a row.
Shaun Noriega scored a game-high 16 points, Toaryln
Fitzpatrick added 14 points and Anthony Collins dished out a career-high 12
assists but the Bulls failed to pull through in crunch time.
USF had a 46-45 lead with 8:58 to go before the Broncos went
on an 8-2 run with a 3-pointer coming from Jared Klein with 3:35 remaining. A
basket and free throw by Jawanza Poland cut the Bulls’ deficit to two with 1:53
left, but Western Michigan put the game away with a layup and free throw by
Hutcheson with 24 seconds on the clock.
Brandon Pokley led three Broncos in double figures with 15
points. Darius Paul added 14 points and Hutcheson scored six of his 11 points
in the second half.
“We have to become a better team at finishing. We were very
good at that in the past,” USF head coach Stan Heath said.
Fitzpatrick and Noriega powered USF from long range early on
with six 3-pointers before the Bulls headed into the locker room with a 36-34
lead. Fitzpatrick was 4-for-5 from behind the arc and had a team-high 12 points
at the half while Noriega also was in double figures with 10 points.
The Bulls shot 55 percent from the field in the half and
found easy baskets often. Collins extended his streak of six-plus assist games
to five after totaling seven before the break.
“I’m glad he’s not in our league and we don’t have to deal
with that kind of point guard,” Hawkins said.
Western Michigan kept it close thanks to 10 points from
Pokley, who made half of the Broncos’ four 3-pointers. The visitors were
able to keep the margin slim after Hutcheson’s jumper beat the buzzer.
“It just feels a lot more manageable when it’s a one
possession game,” Hawkins said.
USF’s cooled off in the second half, shooting 23 percent
from the floor and hitting just one of its 10 3-point attempts after going
6-for-10 in the first half. The Bulls also got outrebounded by a 39-26 margin
in their third game in three days.
“We had some real good looks, but they weren’t falling,”
USF plays its fourth game in five days 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
when it hosts Bradley back at the Sun Dome.
“It’s a tough break for us. We just have to continue to work
and get better,” Heath said.