Necks fall in near upset


File Photo

Isaac Johnson dribbles on his way to the paint.

Devon Greene, Sports Editor

The Western Illinois University Leathernecks kicked off the postseason with a near upset over the number one team in the Summit League in the first round of the Summit League playoffs. The Leathernecks fell to the South Dakota State Jackrabbits in a hard fought, 66-60 loss.

In the first two matchups of this season between these two teams, the Jackrabbits handed the Purple and Gold two double-digit losses with a 98-70 loss in Macomb, Ill. and an 82-62 loss in Brookings, S.D. With those demoralizing losses fresh on the brains of many fans of the Summit League, there were few that gave the Leathernecks a chance in round one of the playoffs. Western’s head coach Billy Wright praised his team for fighting against expectations and putting on one of their best performances of the season.

“I don’t know how many people believed, but I know that our that our team believed tonight,” said head coach Billy Wright. “We executed our game plan tonight, but we just came up a little short. It was a great environment and I am really, really proud of our guys. The future is bright.”

Freshman forward and Leatherneck standout performer of this season, Kobe Webster, scored the first basket of the playoffs. This basket gave the Leathernecks a lead that they held for a large majority of the first half. The Jackrabbits were able to tie up the game at 6-6 early with a three from freshman guard David Jenkins Jr. Gilbeck was the workhorse that fueled the Leathernecks offense in the first half of play. The 7-foot-tall big man scored 12 points in the first half and kept the Purple and Gold just out of reach of the Jackrabbits.

The back and forth battle emerged about halfway through the first half. South Dakota State’s junior forward Mike Daum gave the Jackrabbits their first lead of the game with a free throw at the 10:33 mark in the first half. They weren’t able to hang on to the lead long as junior guard Delo Bruster responded with a three-pointer. Daum answered Bruster with a three of his own that gave the Jackrabbits a 20-19 lead. The lead went back and forth for the remainder of the half until freshman guard Isaac Johnson sunk a three-pointer that put the Leathernecks ahead 32-29 at halftime.

The Purple and Gold started the second half even more motivated, smelling the blood in the water. Senior forward Dalan Ancrum nailed his first two baskets of the second half and gave Western a 36-31 lead. Sophomore guard C.J. Duff then gave Western their largest lead of the game after he hit a three-point jumper that pushed the lead to 43-34. The Jackrabbits then showed why they are the number one seed in the Summit League.

South Dakota State rattled off an 8-0 scoring run fueled by their defense. The Jackrabbits held Western scoreless for 3:54 but were still unable to take a lead. Johnson scored on a mid-range jumper as the Jackrabbits were knocking at the door, down 43-42. However, the Jackrabbits responded quickly and took their first lead of the second half, and one that they would hold on to for the remainder of the game, courtesy of a layup from senior guard Skyler Flatten.

The difference in the second half was the level of production that the Jackrabbits were able to find from every member of their team. Daum was a force to be reckoned with in the second half. The two-time Summit League Player of the Year scored 17 points in the second half, which accounted for 45 percent of the team’s 37 total points scored in the second half. The other two players that helped carry the Jackrabbits to a victory were junior point guard Brandon Key and senior forward Reed Tellinghuisen. Key, Tellinghuisen and Daum were the only Jackrabbits that scored in the last 10:21 second of play and scored the final 22 points of the game.

After Daum sunk a three-point basket that gave the Jackrabbits their largest lead of the game with only 2:15 remaining. Western fought for their playoff chances and looked as if they were on the road to a comeback. A free throw from Ancrum and a layup from Johnson, brought the Leathernecks within six but a huge three-pointer from Webster with 38 seconds left to play put them back in striking distance as the Jackrabbits only held a 62-60 lead.

South Dakota State relied on Daum to bring home the victory and he answered the call as he sunk his final four free throws that gave them the 66-60 win. The Jackrabbits will take on the winner of the fourth seed Fort Wayne and fifth seed North Dakota State in round two of the playoffs.

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