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Men’s basketball dominates Dominican

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Men’s basketball dominates Dominican

Isaac Johnson shoots a free-throw at Western Hall.

Isaac Johnson shoots a free-throw at Western Hall.

File Photo

Isaac Johnson shoots a free-throw at Western Hall.

File Photo

File Photo

Isaac Johnson shoots a free-throw at Western Hall.

Jacob VanZuiden, Courier Staff

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After dropping the season opener to Creighton, the Western Illinois University men’s basketball team has stormed back to win two straight games, including a dominant 95-56 victory Wednesday night against Dominican University.

When the Purple and Gold fell short against Creighton, it wasn’t seen as entirely negative. After playing toe-to-toe until the final buzzer with a team that boasted a dazzling 16-2 home record last season, the young squad for Western began to ooze with confidence. They’ve played brilliantly overall thus far, as this also marked the second straight contest where five different Leathernecks finished with double figures in the scoring column. This time out, the team was able to find scoring contributions from all angles.

Leading the bout for the Leathernecks was senior big man Brandon Gilbeck, a player not particularly known for his scoring prowess. He had the hot hand in this matchup, however, as the Dominican Stars had no answer for the 7-foot center. Gilbeck led the team with 19 points on a very efficient shooting night (85.7 percent from the field) while serving as the anchor of their defense, and managing to add four blocks to an already-impressive total on the season.

Sophomore guard Isaac Johnson, one of the more pleasant surprises on the team thus far, was able to chip in with 18 points of his own. The freshman duo of Ben Pyle and Zion Young continued to impress in the early stages of the season, contributing with 12 points each.

The narrative was different for sophomore guard Kobe Webster, as he just couldn’t seem to find his rhythm against the Stars. His opportunities were limited in a game where the Purple and Gold jumped out to a large lead right from the get-go. He ended up in double figures, accruing 11 points on just 2-6 shooting. Despite his off-game, Webster still leads the team 18.7 points per game. He’ll have a good shot to bounce back next time out.

Dominican University struggled to get things going right from tip-off, as they were unable to crack double-digits in the score column until just after the 10-minute mark of the first half. 6-foot-6 forward Braquan Echols was the lone bright spot for the Stars, notching a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Sophomore guard Dennis Handy placed second on the team in scoring, finishing the contest with nine points.

This victory puts Western Illinois at 2-1 through three games. While the last two opponents haven’t posed the stiffest competition to the Leathernecks, head coach Billy Wright has been pleased with how his team has taken advantage of these matchups. He remains adamant that the Purple and Gold need to continue executing their offensive plan, regardless of who they face.

“We always want to play the right way. On offense, it’s moving the ball, sharing the ball, making the extra pass when guys are open,” Wright said. “We have to make the right decisions, whether it’s getting in the paint off the bounce, catching and shooting the three or dumping it down low to the big fella (Gilbeck).”

This is undoubtedly a great start for this program after finishing last season below .500 at 12-16. In fact, the men’s basketball program hasn’t seen a winning season since the 2012-13 season. This is a streak they’ll look to end this year as Wright continues to groom and develop his inexperienced roster.

The Leathernecks will aim at keeping their momentum churning on their upcoming road trip starting Saturday. They’ll face off against Eastern Illinois and Tennessee-Martin before finishing their road trip against Nebraska on Nov. 24

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Men’s basketball dominates Dominican