"We knew we were in for a tough one when we were watching tape and didn't see any weaknesses (from Western Michigan)," said Central Michigan head coach Keno Davis. "They are experienced, talented, and work extremely hard and you have to tip your hat to the type of team they have right now."
The Broncos (12-7, 4-2 MAC) used a 10-0 run, including eight straight points by David Brown, to grab a 22-10 lead at the midway point of the first half, then found an answer for every attack the Chippewas (9-10, 2-4 MAC) threw at them the rest of the way.
Kyle Randall put an end to the run with the Chippewas' first three of the game, after they had missed their first six attempts. Two minutes later Hibbitts was fouled as he knocked down a three and converted a four-point play to bring the Chippewas within eight, 25-17. After a Broncos dunk at the 6:35 mark, neither team was able to find a field goal for the next six minutes, but Western continued to build its advantage with free throws, eventually taking its second 12-point lead, this time 33-21 with 2:58 left.
The Chippewas' defense, however, sparked a late first-half run, allowing just one attempt by the Broncos the rest of the way and forcing four turnovers while scoring the last five points to end the half down just five, 33-26.
The Broncos were forced into 11 first-half turnovers on nine steals by the Chippewas, who would end the game with a season-high 12. But Central couldn't capitalize on Western's miscues, turning the 18 turnovers into just 16 points.
"We've been trying to build our pressure defense. In another year or two we could be a really good pressure defense team, forcing 17 or 18 turnovers a night. In the last two games we have had to go to that more, being down. We did a good job getting the steals, and had two or three more in our hands that we lost, but didn't hit the shots on the other end. If you make a couple of those, that's how you make a double-digit lead disappear pretty quickly."
Randall brought the Chippewas out of the locker room by hitting the first attempt from the floor - a spark they needed as they knocked down their first three attempts to come within six in the first four minutes. But the Broncos, after missing their first jumper of the second half, came back with a three of their own and then took the ball inside, scoring on 11 of their next 12 possessions to keep the Chippewas at bay and build a 16-point advantage.
At the eight-minute media timeout the Broncos were still shooting at a 73 percent clip in the half, hitting 11-of-15 attempts while the Chippewas had hit just 5-of-15, all from behind the arc. Central finally was able to convert its first two-point field goal of the half at the 4:46 mark.
"We are a team that doesn't have a lot of room for error this year," said Davis. "We do our best and don't make excuses. Tonight, we were making runs and getting back in there, and they made some really tough shots on us.
"We had quite a few shots that were really good open looks that didn't go down. In the first half they were 4-for-8 from three and we were 2-of-11. And that was the difference in the game. They hit threes and we didn't hit threes, and that's kind of what we're built on. We have three-point shooters at every spot and when you get out-shot from three it's going to be an uphill battle to find a way to stay in games."
Hibbitts ended the night one point shy of his career high, and was matched in the scoring column by Randall. Chris Fowler dished out six assists and recorded one-third of the team's 12 steals.
- Tonight's attendance of 3,419 is the fourth-highest attendance figure since McGuirk Arena opening on December 1, 2010.
- The Chippewas' record falls under .500 for the first time since the season opener.
- Chris Fowler's 97 assists this season put him 12 away from tying the program's Division I freshman record.
- Western entered the game with a +7.4 advantage on the boards, ranked 22nd in the country, and averaging 38.6 rebounds per game.
- The Chippewas recorded four steals in the game's first four minutes and had nine by halftime.
- CMU shot 30.4 percent in the first half and 29.2 percent in the second, ending the game at 29.8 percent from the floor, matching the season-low established at Utah.