Western Michigan: 2013-14 Mid-American Men's Basketball Champions
CLEVELAND -- David Brown scored 32 points, Tucker Haymond added 21 and Western Michigan earned its first trip to the NCAA tournament in 10 years by beating Toledo 98-77 on Saturday night in the Mid-American Conference championship.
The top-seeded Broncos (23-9) won their first title since 2004, and along with it, the league's automatic spot inside the NCAA brackets.
Shayne Whittington added 20 and 13 rebounds for WMU, which had to overcome an 18-point deficit in the semifinals to sneak past Akron.
The title game was much easier for the Broncos, who pulled away in the second half, outrebounded the Rockets 46-27 and set the tournament record for points.
Julius Brown and Rian Pearson scored 22 apiece to pace Toledo (27-6). The Rockets set a school record for wins this season, but their hopes of making the NCAA field for the first time since 1980 hinged on them winning this tourney.
Brown, who made five 3-pointers, nine free throws and delivered a big bucket whenever the Broncos needed one, was the tournament's MVP.
The senior guard had plenty of help as Western Michigan shot 68 percent (19 of 28) in the second half and showcased its offensive firepower, something that any team it faces in the NCAA tournament had best be prepared to handle.
With his team comfortably ahead in the final minute, Western Michigan coach Steve Hawkins pulled out his starters, who embraced in front of the bench as the Broncos fans danced in the aisles behind them.
The bald-headed Hawkins then put his sport coat back on. His work was done.
It wasn't an easy trip to Cleveland from Kalamazoo.
The Broncos had got caught behind a major accident on the Ohio Turnpike in a severe snowstorm, turning their four-hour bus trip into an 11-hour marathon. But once they got to Quicken Loans Arena, the Broncos made the most of every second and are now back on top in the MAC after a decade-long drought.
Leading by just two at halftime, Western Michigan pushed its advantage to 14 with less than five minutes left and then Whittington put a pair of exclamation points on the title with two alley-oop dunks.
Toledo was simply outplayed in every facet.
The Rockets, making their first appearance in the final since 2006, couldn't cut deep enough into WMU's lead. And even when it appeared Toledo was ready to make a run, the Broncos answered back.
Connar Tava added 13 points -- 11 in the second half -- for Western.
J.D. Weatherspoon's dunk in traffic just before the horn, brought a high-intensity first half to a close and pulled the Rockets within 42-40.
Pearson, who finished the half with 16 points, scored Toledo's first eight and the senior had several other clean looks at the basket that didn't drop in the opening 10 minutes.
WMU had three offensive weapons as Brown, Haymond and Whittington had the Rockets scrambling on defense as they tried to figure out whom to stop. The trio combined for 36 of Western Michigan's points in the opening half.
Brown made consecutive 3-pointers -- both from well behind the arc -- and then scored on a traditional three-point play as the Broncos opened a 24-14 lead.
Brown, who banked in a long 3-pointer in overtime to help seal Western's semifinal win over Akron, knocked down another 3 to put WMU up 33-25.
The Rockets were reeling, but snapped out of it with three 3-pointers, and Julius Brown made two free throws as Toledo overcame a 10-point deficit.