Men’s basketball finally bounce Jackrabbits

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Jake Thompson

Western’s Garrett Covington leads the Leathernecks with 22 points against the Jackrabbits.

Campbell Atkins

While the majority of Western’s student body was enjoying a lengthy break and settling into the New Year, men’s basketball defeated South Dakota State 82-74 for the first time since the Arizona Cardinals were NFC Champions.

Eight years almost seems like an eternity in college athletics. Since February 2009, the Leathernecks have lost to the Jackrabbits all 18 times they have seen them. This included three season-ending losses in the Summit League Tournament, multiple blowout defeats and the occasional heartbreaker.

At least two losses a year to South Dakota State had become routine for Western. To find the last successful crusade over the Jackrabbits, one has to go back to the beginning of the Jim Molinari era. One would not come across names like Garrett Covington or Brandon Gilbeck in this particular box score. They would not find remarks from current head coach Billy Wright on the win. But they would see the same comeback mentality featured almost eight years later in the early days of 2017.

The 2008-09 Leathernecks made the final win over the Jackrabbits in nearly a decade a memorable one. The game was deadlocked at 59 as South Dakota State had one final chance to walk out of Macomb victorious in regulation. As they drove to take the lead, Western’s David DuBois blocked a layup with 5 seconds remaining. The ball ended up in the hands of senior guard Josh Rivers, who led the Leathernecks in 3-point field goals in 2008.

Western had made the stop and the game seemed destined for overtime. Rivers had other ideas. He threw up a prayer from half court as time expired that somehow found the net and gave the Leathernecks a 62-59 victory.

“As soon as DuBois got that block, I just ran to get the ball,” Rivers said. “I looked up at the clock and as soon as I saw there were only 2 seconds left, I just ran as fast as I could to get as close to the basket as I could. When I saw it hit 1, I took one more dribble and just released it out of my hands. It felt good and it went in.”

At the time, it was the eighth win of the season for Western and their fifth in conference. It was the first year under former head coach Jim Molinari, whose tenure would last until 2014. But in February 2009, this was just an exciting victory for a struggling basketball team that desperately needed it. They had no idea of the historical significance it would play for the program for years to come.

Fast forward to Jan. 4, 19 matchups later. The first half was no indication that Western was going to break the drought. The Jackrabbits held a 6-point lead at the break and were on track for their ninth win of the season.

Western would capture the same magic from eight years ago to finally get over the hurdle. Trailing by 7 with less than 9 minutes remaining, the Leathernecks went on an impressive 21-5 run to put South Dakota State to bed for the first time in 2,901 days.

Western will face South Dakota State once again on Feb. 1 in Brookings, SD. The Leathernecks have not won in Brooking since joining the Summit League.

Twitter: @campbellatkins4