Second half run comes up short for McNeese in 75-65 loss at Western Michigan

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KALAMAZOO, Michigan – A.J. Lawson scored a game-high 21 points in his McNeese debut and the Cowboys rallied from a 20-point second half deficit to pull to within four points, but time ran out as Western Michigan held on for a 75-65 win in both team’s season opening basketball games.

Lawson, a transfer from North Texas who had to redshirt last season, hit 9 of 17 from the field while dishing out a team-high three assists.

He was one of three players to record double-figures joining Sha’Markus Kennedy (15) and newcomer Dru Kuxhausen (10). Kennedy recorded a double-double by grabbing 13 rebounds.

Both Lawson and Kuxhausen fouled out with the game still in doubt.

“I’m really proud of our effort,” said second-year head coach Heath Schroyer. “Traveling 12 hours, playing a good team and battling back to within six (points) with six (minutes) left showed a lot of guts and heart.”

Trailing 71-65 after a Lawson layup with 2:06 to play, the Cowboys got the ball back after a missed three from WMU’s Michael Flowers. Lawson tried to cut the deficit in half with a 3 but was off the mark.

McNeese got another chance to cut the lead to four points with under a minute to play but Kennedy’s layup was blocked from behind by Brandon Johnson.

The Broncos went up 72-65 after a Artis White free throw with 40 seconds to play when Kennedy came up short on a jumper on the other end. The Broncos closed out the game with three more free throws as the Cowboys.

McNeese missed its final five shots of the game after sinking the previous three field goals.

“Our lack of execution down the stretch and missed free throws and layups really hurt us,” said Schroyer. “But I love this group and I’m really encouraged.”

The Cowboys made just 8 of 18 from the free throw line while Western Michigan hit 22 of 28.

Flowers was one of two Broncos players to score in double-figures, netting 24 points while White added 20.

McNeese hit 47 percent from the field for the game (26 of 55) but was just 5 of 19 from 3-point range for 26 percent. But in the second half, the Cowboys at one point, hit 8 of 10 while putting together a 15-0 run after falling behind by 20. And on defense, McNeese held WMU to just 25 percent shooting in the half and 36 percent for the game (21 of 58).

The Broncos sank 11 of 32 from long range for 34 percent as both Flowers and White each knocked down four.

Both teams pulled down 35 rebounds.

McNeese connected on its final four shots of the first half and cut a 17-point deficit with 2:12 to play to a 42-31 deficit at the break.

The Cowboys scored the first two points of the game and led 10-9 following a Lawson jumper with 14:42 to play in the half before WMU began to extend its lead behind the sharp shooting of Flowers.

Leading 23-18 with 6:32 to play, the Broncos went to Flowers’ perimeter game and knocked down three straight from long range to help WMU open up a 40-23 lead with 2:12 to play.

McNeese’s Sam Baker responded with a three of his own then Lawson scored four of the last five points for the Cowboys, including an off-balance jumper at the buzzer to pull the Cowboys to within 11 at the half.

The Broncos used an 8-0 run early in the second half to open up a 57-37 lead with 14:41 to play. McNeese responded with a 15-0 run behind a couple of Kuxhausen 3s and a three and two-pointer from Lawson to cut the gap to 57-52 with 10:17 to play.

A three by Lawson on a second chance opportunity made it a 59-55 game with 8:46 to play but WMU rolled off eight straight points to build a 67-55 lead with 5:10 remaining.

Trailing 71-60 with 2:55 left, Lawson recorded a tradition three-point play then a layup after a Bronco miss to pull the Cowboys to within 71-65 with 2:06 to play.

That would be the last bucket McNeese would make as Western Michigan was able to knock down its free throws to close out the win.

Other scoring for the Cowboys saw Roydell Brown scored 9 points on the night, Truman Moore with four, Sam Baker three points, Jalen Poyser with two and Leondre Washington with one.

McNeese will be back in action on Saturday night when it visits Louisiana-Lafayette at 7 p.m. in the Cajundome. The Cowboys will open their home slate on Monday at 6:30 against Southern-New Orleans.

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