Western Michigan wins, meets South Carolina again

It might have been a 40-minute game, but it basically was a 7-minute stretch that gave Western Michigan an 86-67 victory over Appalachian State in Friday’s second round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off at Myrtle Beach.

The game was tied 40-40 at halftime, then WMU (2-2) came out and ripped off 15 unanswered points to start the second half. The Broncos went 6-for-12 from the field during that span, while the Mountaineers (2-2) missed all seven of their shots.

By the time Appy State regrouped, they trailed 55-40 and were unable to close the gap to less than seven points the rest of the way.

“We came out slow in the second half and basically spotted them 15 points,” said Appy State guard Ronshad Shabazz, who scored a team-high 25. “We lost focus, and once we got it back it was too late.

“We left guys wide open for 3-pointers, had guys taking it to the basket and getting fouled and getting easy points. And before you know it, you’re down 15. That’s how quickly it can happen when you’re playing a good team. It was definitely a lack of focus on our end.”

The Broncos had a similar experience at the start of their 81-74 first-round loss to Tulsa on Thursday, falling behind by 13 points in less than nine minutes.

“The beginning of the game against Tulsa cost us the ballgame. We learned the lesson that any short stretch can cost you a ballgame,” Hawkins said. “So at halftime, we placed a heavy emphasis on the first four minutes of the second half.”

Having Thomas Wilder on the team certainly helped. A day after posting 19 points and seven assists against Tulsa, the senior guard torched the Mountaineers for 31 points, aided by a 12-of-14 performance at the free-throw line.

“He is the heart and soul of our team,” Hawkins said. “When things get a little shaky for us, if you put the ball in his hands, you know something good is going to happen.”