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WMU responds following heartbreaker at CMU

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

With a ridiculously young roster, it would’ve been awfully easy for the Western Michigan men’s basketball team to sit and sulk, and let the season spiral totally out of control.

After all, the night of Feb. 3, it had just lost to its biggest rival, Central Michigan, on a late 3-pointer by Marcus Keene. It was a crushing defeat, given the Broncos had led by as many as 18 points. It also was their fifth loss in six games, dropping their record to 7-15 overall and 3-7 in the Mid-American Conference.

But something odd happened in the McGuirk Arena visiting locker room that night.

Western Michigan heads hung high.

“You’re certainly right,” Western Michigan coach Steve Hawkins said before practice Monday, when it was suggested it would’ve made sense for morale to dip even further. “But I really didn’t think it would with this group.

“The next day at practice, I could see they had their bounce back.”

Western Michigan hasn’t lost since, winning four games in a row, including Saturday’s 88-80 victory at home over another in-state rival, Eastern Michigan.

The Broncos now are 11-15 overall, but more importantly back to .500, at 7-7, in conference play with four games to go.

“We took the approach, from my friends in the NBA. And in the NBA, when you lose, you get to play again within a day or two,” Hawkins said. “We hopped on the bus, and off we went.”

The surge has been led by junior guard Thomas Wilder, whose play gets overshadowed by Keene’s historic season at Central Michigan. Wilder is averaging 18.9 points, with a season-high 38 two games ago in a win over Bowling Green, against whom he went 15-for-15 from the free-throw line.

Forward Tucker Haymond, the lone senior on the roster, scored 26 in Saturday’s victory over Eastern Michigan.

Swingman Reggie Jones, a freshman, scored 26 in the first game after the Central Michigan heartbreaker, a win at Miami (Ohio).

“These are kids,” said Hawkins, “that really like to compete.”

Western Michigan returns to action Tuesday at Toledo, with games against Ball State, Northern Illinois and the Central Michigan rematch March 3 rounding out the regular season. The MAC tournament then gets under way March 6, with the Broncos seemingly peaking at the right time, with the Chippewas and Eagles going the opposite direction.

Central Michigan (16-11, 6-8) has lost three of four since the thriller against Western Michigan, and Eastern Michigan (13-14, 5-9) has lost six straight, costing each valuable seeding in the tournament.

Seizing the opportunity

Nice little story out of Detroit Mercy on Sunday, when senior Patrick Robinson Jr. made the first start of his Titans career.

The Titans (6-21, 4-11 Horizon League) are still working things out in coach Bacari Alexander’s first year, and are dealing with injuries, too, especially to star senior Chris Jenkins (leg).

So Robinson, known for his strong work ethic, got the call Sunday, and made the most of it, with a career-high 14 points and five rebounds in a loss to Valparaiso at Calihan Hall.

“His first start, I couldn’t be more proud of him,” Alexander said. “And getting a chance to play in front of his parents (Morene and Patrick), who hadn’t seen him play throughout his career, was a really special moment.”

Robinson is in his second season at Detroit Mercy, after transferring in following two years at Dakota College in North Dakota.

He made seven appearances last season, all off the bench.

Prior to Sunday, he had made 20 appearances this season, all off the bench.

Robinson actually helped keep Detroit Mercy in the game against league-leading Valpo, at least early, teaming with Jaleel Hogan for a key spurt in the first half that gave the Titans the lead. Robinson finished 5-for-8 shooting, 4-for-7 on 3s.

A native of Brampton, Ontario, he will be one of four seniors honored, along with Jenkins, prior to the season’s last home game, Tuesday night against Cleveland State.

Grizzly is golden

Oakland has had a reputation, at least lately, of being Second Chance U. Martez Walker is among those making the most of one of Greg Kampe’s olive branches.

The junior guard continues to make a strong case to make the All-Horizon League first team, after picking up conference player-of-the-week honors Monday — the first time he’s won the award, in his second season with the Golden Grizzlies (21-7, 11-4).

Walker scored 21 and 23 in a pair of Oakland victories last week. He’s scored 20 or more 11 times this season, and Oakland is 11-0 in those games. Going back to last season, in fact, Oakland is 13-0 when Walker scores 20 or more.

Walker, 21, a former Detroit Pershing standout, came to Oakland after a rocky tenure at Texas, where he was accused of domestic assault.

After averaging 10.5 points and 3.6 rebounds last season, he’s averaging 17 points and 3.7 rebounds this season.

His scoring is tops on the team, ahead of junior forward Jalen Hayes (15.4), who made the preseason All-Horizon League team. The two could be vying for the final spot among the postseason accolades.

New look

The Horizon League men’s tournament again will be in Detroit this season, at Joe Louis Arena from March 3-7, before it moves on over to new Little Caesars Arena next year.

New this year — the women’s tournament will take place at The Joe, too, taking place at the same time. And the two local women’s teams might just be big factors, with Detroit Mercy in third place at 14-12, 10-5, and Oakland — after picking up its 300th Division I victory Saturday — in fifth place at 15-11, 9-6.

Wright State, though, will enter as the favorite. Interestingly, it won’t be Green Bay, which is in serious danger of seeing its 18-year streak of winning the regular-season title come to an end. Oakland and Detroit have played a role in that development, each with a stunning victory over Green Bay, which is in second place, two games back of Wright State.

Horizon League tournament tickets remain on sale, and are a pretty nifty bargain, with all-session passes going for as little as $45.

Milestone win

It’s been another tough year for the Wayne State women’s team (8-19, 5-15 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference), which will miss the NCAA Tournament for a second consecutive year after making three trips in a row from 2013-15.

But a win Saturday at Lake Superior State was noteworthy, in that it was coach Carrie Lohr’s 100th at Wayne State. In her sixth season, he reached 100 wins quicker than any coach in program history.

Wayne State finishes its season Thursday at home against Saginaw Valley. It won’t qualify for the conference tournament.

The Wayne State men (15-9, 12-8), led by Detroit Cass Tech’s Chuck Key and his 14.6 points a game, qualified for the conference tournament with a win over Northwood on Thursday.