Not again: Men’s team hit with key early injury

Tom Loftus sports editor

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The “whooshing” noise coming from Western Hall last Tuesday evening wasn’t just the sound of 6-foot-7 Western Illinois junior Terell Parks skying over Greenville College opponents for another ferocious rebound and score.

That noise also was the air quickly escaping from the Leathernecks’ pumped-up hopes for this season, due to an untimely and serious injury to one of its key performers. Thus far the team has pulled together and patched the leak, but the scenario is eerily reminiscent of the one that led to its dream for a successful 2010-11 season popping overnight like a child’s balloon.

Western easily handled the visiting Panthers, 84-49, on Tuesday for its first win of the season. The Leathernecks (2-2) would go on to record a 65-62 victory over the host North Dakota Fighting Sioux (3-2) Saturday afternoon in Grand Forks, ND.

Unfortunately for Western, however, even two straight triumphs weren’t enough to make the team forget about the biggest news of the week, revealed in last Tuesday’s post-game press conference.

“It’s tragic, as his father and as his coach,” said Western head coach Jim Molinari, after confirming that his son, guard Billy Molinari, had torn the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his knee while attempting to make a quick stop-and-start maneuver in the Leathernecks’ 59-55 loss at Michigan Nov. 17. The sophomore is now lost for the season after undergoing surgery earlier that day.

Billy Molinari, who started at the No. 2 guard position against the Wolverines and was considered one of the team’s strongest outside shooting threats, also missed all but one game of the 2010-11 campaign after suffering a foot injury in the team’s season-opening win over St. Francis.

“Billy has a strong faith,” his father said. “He loves the Lord, and he believes that something positive will come out of all this.”

Last season, in addition to his son’s misfortune, the Leathernecks coach also saw three other players go down and miss most of the season: star point guard Ceola Clark, talented No. 2 guard Tommie Tyler and center David Gebrum, perhaps the team’s most dangerous shot blocker.

Clark, Tyler and Gebru are all back this season, and Jim Molinari said he has already seen encouraging things from them, as well as from the rest of his squad.

“Tommie (Tyler) gave us tremendous leadership tonight,” Molinari said Tuesday night, after watching his 6-foot-3 senior guard contribute 14 points, 6 rebounds (including 5 off the offensive glass) and 3 assists. “I thought Remy (Roberts-Burnett) went to the basket really well.

“And Terell? Terell was Terell.”

Roberts-Burnett, a speedy 6-foot freshman guard, chipped in with 8 points, 2 rebounds and 1 steal. With 16:38 left in the second half, the Joliet, Ill. native scored on a crowd-pleasing drive to the basket that put Western up 48-26, the last points of a 9-0 run by the Leathernecks after intermission.

Parks, who joined Western after two seasons at Iowa Central Community College, where he was a First Team JUCO Division II All-America selection last season, showed the 387 fans in attendance that he is at home at Western, and in the NCAA.

Time after time, Parks seemed to be jumping off a springboard under the net as he leaped over a Greenville College player to snare another rebound.

The 6-foot-7 forward converted 6 of 7 shots from the field, and added 15 rebounds (4 offensive), 1 assist, 1 steal and 14 points in just 18 minutes on the floor.

“It was kind of tough at times (under the boards),” Parks said, maintaining a straight face. “(Greenville College) had some little guys, and they would kind of get behind you where you don’t see them.”

Greenville College, a small Christian school (enrollment: 1,100) located in Greenville, Ill., about 45 miles east of St. Louis, was founded in 1855 as an all-female institution, and is perhaps best known for producing the rock band Augustana and the Christian band Jars of Clay. Its men’s basketball team competes in the NCAA Division III, and its schedule features such teams as St. Louis Pharmacy, Fontbonne and Logan Chiropractic.

On Tuesday, the Panthers – whose starting five averaged 6 feet in height, and included 5-foot-8 senior guard Jose Garcia and 5-foot-10 junior guard Ben Giertz – could do nothing against the much taller Leathernecks except pop in the occasional 3-pointer.

Greenville sophomore guard Alex Mumphard – at 5-foot-6 and 150 pounds, easily the smallest player on the court – came off the bench to hit 4 of 5 shots from outside the arc, and finish with 19 points, the only Panther in double figures.

The Panthers actually led 8-7 early on, but a 17-6 run by the Leathernecks, capped by a jumper by forward Obi Emegano from the far corner, removed all doubt as to the eventual outcome.

Emegano, a 6-foot-3 freshman, matched Mumphard’s 19 points and added 7 rebounds and 1 assist. Clark contributed 5 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists and 1 steal.

Gebru (10 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks), junior forward Don McAvoy (8 points, 5 rebounds), freshman guard Jalen Packer (6 points, 3 assists, 2 rebounds) and junior forward Jack Houpt (4 assists, 1 rebound, 1 block) also made an impact for Western.

“We need to establish our identity,” said Molinari, whose 1-2 team was set to play the University of North Dakota on Saturday afternoon in a non-conference matchup. “Defensively, we need to make the other team make a lot of passes.

“When we play the way we need to play, we’re a good team.”

On Saturday at the Sioux Center against North Dakota – a school that was once rumored to be next in line to join the Summit League, but will instead jump from the Great West Conference to the Big Sky Conference next fall – Western jumped out to a 27-10 lead, then held off the Fighting Sioux down the stretch to record a 3-point victory.

Parks recorded his second straight double-double to pace the Leathernecks, scoring 17 points – tops on the team – and adding a game-high 11 rebounds, including 3 off the offensive glass.

Clark just missed a double-double of his own with 10 points and 9 assists, while Houpt hit a trio of long-range shots and finished with 9 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 steal.

Jamal Webb, a 6-foot-1 sophomore guard, scored 22 points for North Dakota to lead all scorers and added 9 rebounds, but also turned the ball over 6 times.

The Fighting Sioux had 20 turnovers in the game to the Leathernecks’ 12. While North Dakota did lead Western in several other categories, including rebounds (38 to 28), 3-point field goals (10 to 6) and field goal percentage (43.4 to 43.3), the Leathernecks managed to come out on top in the only category that really mattered.

Western now has three straight games at home, opening its conference season on Thursday with a 7 p.m. match at Western Hall against North Dakota State.

The Bison, picked to finish fifth in the Summit League preseason poll, are off to a 6-0 start this fall, their best record to begin a season since going 7-0 to start the 2000-01 campaign.




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