Leathernecks beat down Cougars

Michael Harms , Courier Staff

Illinois University took on the Southern Illinois University- Edwardsville Cougars on Wednesday night and got their first Division I win at home. The Leathernecks dominated both halves and won with 83-58.

As Western closes in on conference league play, they needed a win after losing three straight games. With a record of 2-4, the young group needed a confidence boost to push them through a tough stretch. Head coach Billy Wright did his job well by keeping his players motivated and focused coming into this game.

They stormed out of the gate giving big man Brandon Gilbeck full authority as he had six straight points for the Leathernecks. His dominance on the defensive side of the ball was highlighted with five blocks on the game, tying him for the lead in the NCAA for most blocks.

The Cougars tried to stay in the hunt as they battled it out keeping the game within single digits for most of the first half. It was all about their rebounding as they corralled 10 offensive rebounds in the first half alone. Wright at half time was not happy with that statistic and needed it to change.

The first half was coming to an end and the Leathernecks continued to dominate, but couldn’t break away by more than 12. Freshman Zion Young heaved up a jumper from 26 feet out to end any hope of a comeback before half as time expired.

With momentum the Leathernecks didn’t let up coming out of the break going on an 11-2 run and never looked back. First it was Ben Pyle hitting three straight shots from beyond the arc that led a run. Then it was the sophomore pair of Isaac Johnson and Kobe Webster who took over the game.

Wright said, “We want to have some swag” talking about Webster and his electric play style. He had a ton of swag this game dropping 22 points, six rebounds and 5 assists, two of which were no look passes. Johnson may not be as flashy as Webster, but he still put up 20 points shooting a high 72 percent from the field.

Wright called this game “a momentum booster,” after dropping three straight games in Nebraska, Easter Illinois University and a two-point loss at UT Martin. Their first Division I win of the year will help the players feel confident and relaxed as they approach more competitive teams.

In those three games the biggest issue was efficiency and turnovers as Gilbeck, Johnson and C.J. Duff all averaged over two turnovers per game in those contests. Against the Cougars they proved that they not only can play at a high level, but they can also play a consistent game throughout each half.

First conference game will be against South Dakota State University on Dec. 28. Currently the Jackrabbits are first in The Summit League and have NBA level talent on their team. For the Leathernecks to be able to compete at that level, they will need to play a game without mistakes.

Their next few games will be against Stetson University, Indiana University Purdue University of Indianapolis and a rematch against Eastern Illinois University. With a record of 3-5 they will hope to have a better than .500 record after this stretch.