Men’s basketball look to make a jump in the Summit

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Jake Thompson

Senior forward Mike Miklusak has averaged 15.5 points per game in 2016, the second most on Western.

Mat McClanahan

Western Illinois men’s basketball team looks to bounce back after a three-game skid when they travel to South Dakota this Wednesday night to take on the Coyotes.

The Coyotes (13-9, 4-3) sit at third in Summit League play, but they are only one game ahead of the Leathernecks (6-12, 3-4) in their conference records. The bad news for Western is South Dakota has only lost one game at home all season long. On the other end, Western has only two road victories this season.

Dating back to last year, the Leathernecks and Coyotes split in their seasonal matches. Both teams won on their respective home-court, but Western had the advantage in point differential (157-152).

Western found their win against South Dakota on senior night last season.

“Obviously I’m thrilled for the victory and the way we played, and the way we were able to communicate and execute down the stretch when it was winning time. I was pleased that we were able to learn from those mistakes and capitalize, and pull out the win,” said head coach Billy Wright after they sent out their seniors with a victory. “I think (our players) can take the memories of the first nine games.”

Western will have to learn from their first 18 games.

In Western’s last victory, which came from Oral Roberts, senior guard Garrett Covington led all scorers with a dazzling 34 points. If Western wants to stay alive and have a chance to win tonight and down the road, Covington has to keep having consistent nights like this, but he will need help.

He is already leading the team in scoring and assists (19.7 points per game and 2.7 assists per game); the team goes as Covington goes. In last years’ victory against the Coyotes, Covington once again led all scorers with 16 points and four assists; contrary to their loss to the Coyotes, Covington only scored 13 and was not even the leading scorer for Western.

“(Covington) is playing at a high level. He’s being very, very efficient,” said Wright. “He’s done a lot in the absence of Jabari (Sandifer), as he’s had to learn two new offensive packages from the point guard position and still give us points along with assists.”

With that being said, some pressure needs to be taken off Covington’s shoulders. Fellow senior Mike Miklusac is doing what he can with scoring the basketball, but he is the only other Leathernecks averaging double digit scoring (15.5 PPG). The next man on the scorers list goes to a freshman standout, CJ Duff. Duff is the third leading scorer on this Leatherneck team averaging 7.5 PPG.

If Western can hand the Coyotes their second home loss of the season, it will change the standings for the whole Summit League. Seven of the nine teams in the Summit League have just three or four wins; if the Leathernecks get their fourth win it will throw them in the top of half of the standings and give them a chance to play in the conference tournament. It will not only give them a chance to play in the tournament, but it will be the first time Western has had more then three conference wins since 2013.

The Leathernecks are back in Macomb this Saturday, Jan. 25 when they take on IUPUI at 7 p.m. Twitter: @MacIsland13