staffMen’s hoops come up just short in valiant come back
February 15, 2017
Filed under Sports
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MACOMB, Ill. — The Leathernecks came up just short of an incredible comeback Tuesday and fell to the Denver Pioneers (15-10, 8-5) 78-72 at Western Hall. The loss drops Western to 8-16 on the season and 5-8 in Summit League play.
“It was a tale of two halves,” said Western Illinois men’s basketball coach Billy Wright after the loss. “Give them credit for jumping out to a great lead, but I’m proud of my players for not giving up. If we step up and make some plays down the stretch, you never know what could have happened.”
Mike Miklusak missed the front end of a 1-and-1 from the line with under a minute left to play that would have tied the game for the first time since it was 9-9. Denver was able to sink their free throws after a Garret Covington miss and seal Western’s fate. In total, Western missed nine free throws Tuesday.
“This game wasn’t decided by one play,” Wright said. “We made a lot of mistakes tonight, particularly in the first half.”
Miklusak and Covington led the way for Western. Covington shot 50 percent from the field and scored 22 points while Miklusak scored 21.
The Leathernecks led a furious comeback in the first 10 minutes of the second half after coming out of the gates sluggish. They were able to get within 1 point three times in the second half but could never tie it.
Western and Denver went back and forth in the first five minutes. The Leathernecks scored nine points thanks to 3-pointers from CJ Duff, Miklusak and Dalan Ancrum.
The Pioneers then went on a 16-4 run to take a 25-13 lead with just over 11 minutes to play in the first half.
The Leathernecks were able to get it back to even basketball for the next five minutes thanks to jumpers by Gilbeck and Covington as well as two free throws from Jeremiah Usiosefe.
The rest of the half belonged to Denver. They appeared untouchable and orchestrated a 12-2 run before the break. The Pioneers shot nearly 63 percent from the floor in the first half and led 49-27.
Western was able to get within 16 with just over 15 minutes left to play in the game.
Miklusak hit a 3-pointer before Covington knocked down a jumper, resulting in a Denver timeout.
After the break, Wright put pressure on the Pioneers with a full-court press. This had Denver on their toes and allowed the Leathernecks to get back into the game.
The Leathernecks converted on two old-fashioned 3-point plays courtesy of Usiosefe and Duff. Covington followed it up with a conventional three of his own to bring Western within 12 with 13 minutes left to play.
Western continued to control the second half and eventually brought it down to three. Gilbeck rejected a layup attempt that was picked up by Covington and taken the other way for two to bring Western within 1 point with 10 minutes to go.
Gilbeck later picked up another rejection and threw down two dunks in three possessions to cut Denver’s lead to one for the last time before they closed out the game for good. Western outscored Denver 45-29 in the second half.
Despite lopsided first half totals, Western shot 46 percent from the field opposed to Denver’s 50 percent.
The Leathernecks will face top-ranked North Dakota State (17-8, 9-3) on Saturday at 4 p.m. on the road.