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Williams scores 28, hits big 3 late

3/14/2004

CLEVELAND (AP) -- When the ball finally came to him, Western
Michigan's Mike Williams didn't have time to think about making a
move or anything else.

He had one thing on his mind.

"Make the shot," he said.

Mike Williams scored 28 points and made his first career
3-pointer with 55 seconds left, leading Western Michigan to its
first Mid-American Conference tournament title with a 77-66 win
over Kent State on Saturday night.

Williams, the MAC's player of the year and the tourney MVP,
calmly drilled his backbreaking 3-pointer to send the Broncos
(26-4) into the NCAA Tournament with the league's automatic berth.

Williams, a junior college transfer, had missed his six previous
3-point tries in two years, but that didn't stop him from calmly
hitting the biggest shot of Western Michigan's magical season.

"Big-time players make big-time plays," Williams said,
"that's what my coach has always told me -- and I made a play."

Anthony Kann added 17 points and Ben Reed 16 for Western
Michigan, whose first-year coach Steve Hawkins will have them back
in the NCAAs for the first time since 1998.

"It's a dream come true," said Hawkins, an assistant for the
Broncos the past three years. "I can't describe it."

John Edwards had 16 points to lead second-seed Kent State
(22-8), which stayed close in the first half thanks to impressive
3-point shooting but couldn't hit a clutch shot down the stretch --
and couldn't stop Williams.

Bryan Bedford's 3-pointer ended a streak of eight misses behind
the arc for Kent State and trimmed Western Michigan's lead to 66-62
with 3:25 to play.

Neither team could get a basket over the next two minutes, and
Western Michigan appeared to be in trouble on the possession before
Williams hit his shot.

But with the 35-second shot clock winding down, Williams drained
his 3 from the top of the key.

"I thought about calling a timeout, but I didn't want to let
their defense set up," Hawkins said. "But the ball ended up in
the MVP's hands and I thought he was going to drive it. People are
making a big deal about it being his first one, but I've seen him
make that shot everyday."

The Broncos then put it away at the line, and when the final
horn sounded, Western Michigan's fans stormed the floor to
celebrate a school record for wins in a season as well as a spot in
the NCAA field.

If they hadn't won, the Broncos would have had to sweat out
Sunday's selection show. Mid-major conferences have been overlooked
in recent years as at-large bids have gone to the bigger schools in
the power leagues.

But Western Michigan has nothing to fear now.

"It feels good," Williams said. "We can relax going into
selection Sunday and watch the TV show and know your name is going
to get called because we know we're in. This is a great feeling
right now."

Kent State was gunning for its fourth MAC title in six years.
But after making eight 3-pointers in the first half, the Golden
Flashes went just 2-of-17 on 3s after halftime.

When Edwards picked up his third personal foul with 14:30 left
and had to sit, the Broncos immediately took advantage of the big
man's absence by reeling off seven straight points.

Williams' steal and dunk put Western Michigan ahead 51-46 with
12:31 left, forcing Kent to call a timeout to get Edwards back in.

But Williams didn't stop there, scoring a scoop in the lane and
then dunking off a nice feed from Levi Rost to make it 55-48 with
10:56 remaining.

Kent State will likely wind up in the NIT field, not what the
Golden Flashes had in mind a few weeks ago when they were 20-3 and
looking like an NCAA lock.

"It's kind of disappointing," Bedford said. "We worked hard
to get to this point and to come up short once again is just a
feeling you don't want to have."