Men’s basketball gear up for late Summit League push


Jake Thompson

Coach Billy Wright will have one more stretch to get his team into postseason play.

Mat McClanahan

Western Illinois men’s basketball looks for their second consecutive win and a clean sweep of South Dakota State this year. The Leathernecks travel to Brookings, South Dakota, Wednesday night in their attempt to stay alive in Summit League play.

In these teams’ last matchup, Western pulled out an 8-point victory, their second conference win and the first win over the Jackrabbits since 2009.

The stakes of this game could not be much higher. Western (7-13, 4-5), who remains at sixth in the Summit, is only one game ahead of the bottom three schools. The Jackrabbits (10-14, 3-6) are right on their heels; with a victory tonight, SDSU will jump out of the bottom tier of teams and give themselves a better chance to make a run in the Summit League tournament.

For Western, a win would boost them all the way up to third in the conference standings and give them a chance to compete in the tournment, which the Leathernecks missed last season.

After the Leathernecks’ last victory over SDSU, head coach, Billy Wright was ecstatic for his players.

“We just focus on the process,” said Wright. “It’s not who you play; it’s how you play. Hats off to our kids who kept fighting and fighting. I think, in the second half, we had a balanced attack. We really reemphasized an inside-out approach even though we were getting great looks in the first half. Those are wide-open threes, and we wanted to take them, with the right guys getting the right shots. It just didn’t go down in the first half. Then we had a more concentrated effort on getting into the paint, and give our kids credit, they executed the game plan at both ends of the floor.”

Wright is right, Western out played SDSU in every category, include field goal percentage, 3-point percentage, rebounds, turnovers and steals. That was not all.

Western had four of their players score in double digits, one of which was senior guard, Garret Covington.

Covington is the team’s leading scorer and has proven Western only goes as far as him. In all but two of Western’s victories, Covington was Western’s leading scorer.

If Western wants to win Wednesday night, it will not be all on Covington’s scoring, but on their defense. In these teams’ last matchup, they found a way to hold the freshman star, Mike Daum, to eight total points on the night. Daum leads the Jackrabbits in scoring with 564 points, which is nearly double the second leading scorers.

Wright was particularly ecstatic about how the team handled the ball in their previous matchup, with one of the best assist to turnover ratios of the season (22:5), but that did not hold him back when discussing what the team needs to work on.

“Defensively, we’ve got to tighten up on some things, but I couldn’t be more proud of our guys’ effort at both ends of the floor,” said Wright.

These teams will fight for positon in the conference at 7 p.m. this Wednesday. The Leathernecks will find their way back to Macomb this Saturday, Feb. 2, when they take on Omaha, who is tied with them in the Summit League standings.

Twitter: @MacIsland13