Men’s basketball comes back against Coyotes

Titus Perez, Courier Staff


VERMILLION, S.D. — The Western Illinois University Leathernecks (8-13, 3-5 Summit) arrived in Vermillion with about as much momentum as they have had since head coach Billy Wright’s era began. The Purple and Gold had a big time blowout from the Purdue University Fort-Wayne Mastodons (12-10, 4-3 Summit) in their last contest, and was hoping that caliber of a win was enough to turn their season around. Their first test since that win was the University of South Dakota Coyotes (9-12, 3-5 Summit). This was a South Dakota team that had beaten Western five straight times before this contest. Another roadblock in the way of Western was the fact that they hadn’t won a conference road game since Feb. 8, 2017, during this timeframe the Necks dropped 11 straight road games against conference opponents.

That all changed Saturday evening as Wright led his team to a 65-59 defeat against the Coyotes. This back and forth affair was sealed by sophomore guard Kobe Webster, the Summit League conference fifth leading scorer (17.6 points per game), who took center stage and delivered the dagger to the hearts of the fans in attendance at the Sanford Coyote Sports Center.

The game began just as Western Illinois would have wanted. They controlled the pace of the game because of senior center Brandon Gilbeck’s defensive presence, and scored on the offensive end behind a very aggressive Ben Pyle. The freshman Pyle dominated the first 10 minutes of action scoring eight of his team’s high 15 points along with grabbing four of his team’s high 10 rebounds. This gave way to Western taking a 17-11 lead early in the first half with 8:10 remaining. However Wright decided to rest Gilbeck and the Coyotes took advantage, going on a 6-0 run to tie the game at 17. Webster answered with a jump that got Westren the lead back at 19-17 with seven minutes left to play in the first half. From there USD took control of the half. Coyote senior forward Trey Burch-Manning playing in his second game back since being injured for the previous six was a major factor in the first half. Guarded by the bigger and slower Gilbeck, Burch-Manning stayed along the three-point line where Gilbeck refuse to come. This resulted in him hitting three first half three-pointers, ending the half with a game high of 11 points.

USD took a 31-26 lead into halftime, holding Western to 35 percent shooting while surprisingly out-rebounding them 22-14. South Dakota hit on 41 percent of their shots in the first half despite a rough start to the game, the rough patch to start the game is credited to the fact that they couldn’t figure out how to attack Glibeck.

“We have to get the big guy (Gilbeck) away from the basket… we have to figure out a way,” the Coyotes head coach Todd Lee said at half.

Once they did that they had success, partly due to the threes Burch-Manning knocked down. Wright was aware of those threes and said they had to smother Burch-Manning and help out on the backside if he tried to drive to the basket; the Necks did exactly this during their game clinching second-half run.

The beginning of the second half saw USD temporarily take control of the game. They scored the first seven points of the half and captured the first double-digit lead with 17:51 remaining. Wright quickly called a timeout to try and calm his guys and the crowd. On the ensuing possession trailing 38-26 Webster attacked the rim and got fouled. He hit both of the free throws to give Western their first points of the half, cutting the lead to 38-28. In the process, he caused the third foul on USD leading scorer on the season, sophomore Stanley Umude. Umude was forced to exit the game to avoid further foul trouble. During Umude’s time on the bench the Necks cut the lead to seven, 50-43. Umude re-entered the game at the 8:33 mark with Western on a 6-0 run, however he was powerless to stop the Necks run as Western extended it to a whopping 16-0 run. The Leathernecks eventually took the lead on a Pyle three with 5:40 remaining and then extended it with another three on their next possession by sophomore Issac Johnson, Lee signaled for a timeout with the Necks up 55-50 and only 4:47 remaining in the game. Both teams traded missed baskets before the Coyotes were finally able to end their seven minute long scoring drought with a layup by the game’s leading scorer, junior guard Triston Simpson. The next Western possession ended in a turnover, USD savored the moment with a game-tying three on the other end. Tied at 55, Western decided to feed Gilbeck down low. He was then fouled by Simpson and went to the line, hitting one of two free throws; making it 56-55 with 2:57 remaining. The next two possession ended in missed threes for both squads before Johnson got called for his fourth foul, sending Simpson to the line. Simpson, who is normally a great free throw shooter (79 percent) split the free throws, tying it at 56 with 2:17 left in the game. Wright smelled the victory and then asked Webster to close the game, calling for isolation for his best player on back-to-back possession. First, Webster took his defender to the lane, scoring over him on a driving layup, giving Western the 58-56 lead. USD took and missed a three on the next possession before Webster stuck the dagger in the heart of the Coyotes. After the USD miss, Webster was being defended by Simpson. With the shot clock ticking down and him slowly dribbling at the top of the key, Webster then drilled a step-back three to give Western a 61-56 lead with 50 seconds left. The Necks never looked back.

“That’s what we live for. As basketball players we dream about those moments since we were kids. Coach had confidence in me. He called flat and I made it,” Webster said about the shot after the game.

After a USD missed three, Pyle made two free throws, that was followed by a made three from South Dakota making the score 63-59 with 30 seconds left. South Dakota wouldn’t make another basket from there and two Western free throws closed out he game at 65-59.

“We just wanted defense stops… every four minute timeout we had a goal,” coach Wright siad after the game about his team.

Western defense was at its best, proven by the three points given up to USD leading scorer Umude. Webster, Western’s leading scorer on the season struggled from the field, shooting just five of 14 but he hit the two biggest shots of the game and ended with 13 points and three assists. Gilbeck’s 10 points, six rebounds and three blocks had a big effect on the game also, as well as C.J Duff’s 11 points on five of nine shooting. A far cry from the 30 points (eight of nine from deep) he had in the previous game but nonetheless very meaningful. The Coyotes were lead by Simpson’s game high of 17 points, Burch-Manning chipped in 14 points off the bench but had only three in the second half as WIU would not allow him to shoot the open threes he had in the first half. The Leathernecks shot 50 percent (44 percent from three) in the second half compared to 33 percent by USD, a great turn around from the first half. They also evened out the rebound totals with a 20-15 advantage in the second half.

South Dakota will look to bounce back against Purdue Fort-Wayne this Wednesday, while Western will take on the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks (8-13, 2-6 Summit) for the second time this year on Thursday in Macomb. Western will be going for their third straight win and trying to revenge the 71-65 lost from earlier in the season at the hands of UND. The game is set for a 7 p.m. and can be seen live on ESPN3.