Basketball looks to spark winning streak


Myanna Purdue/ Courier Staff

Brandon Gilbeck slamming it down against Omaha.

Michael Harms , Courier Staff

OMAHA- Neb. — The Western Illinois University Leathernecks could not stop the rolling Omaha Mavericks who dominated at home winning, 77-63.

Coming off of a dominant week the Mavricks beat South Dakota State on a buzzer beater and then conquered Purdue Fort Wayne to move into a tie for first in the Summit League standings. It was senior night in Omaha and the players decided to go out with a bang. The entire starting five of their lineup had double-digit points.

Senior guard Zach Jackson led the way. Even though Jackson was co-Summit League player of the week, he dropped 21 points, four assists and two steals to lead his team in each category. The only other senior in the lineup, Mitch Hahn, scored 12 points and corralled five boards in his last home outing.

For Western, they just couldn’t find their groove. Going 2-10 from beyond the arc in the first half set up a poor shooting night for Western who couldn’t find a way to break the seal off the rim. Kobe Webster did his best shooting 7-13 and dropping a team high 17 points, but it was the freshman who dropped the ball this contest as Zion Young and Ben Pyle went a combined 1-12 from the field with just two points.

The Purple and Gold will look to rebound quickly after their fifth straight loss this weekend as they suit up for one last time at home against Oral Roberts.

Western Illinois will say goodbye and celebrate four seniors this year; Ryan Maas, Otis Dortch, Jordan Hughes and Brandon Gilbeck. Maas, Dortch and Hughes average less than five minutes a game, but are essential to the team. Their demeanor and work ethic is something head coach Billy Wright has talked about in the past and every game, you can see their presence has an effect on all of their fellow teammates.

Overall this game will be one last farewell for the machine from Spring Green, Wis., the seven-footer, Gilbeck. There will be one last chance to see a posturizing slam or an emphatic rejection in Western Hall. This is a game that he will remember for the rest of his life.

This game is important for the Leathernecks as they sit at the bottom of the Summit League standings just three games away from post-season play. Only one game ahead of Denver, the Leathernecks must stay disciplined and focused to make it to the tournament held in Sioux Falls, S.D.

During this five-game skid, Western has lost production from Isaac Johnson who is averaging 8.5 points per game in that span down from his 11.3 average. It has cost him to be taken out of the starting lineup as Wright looks for answers.

Standing in their way are the Golden Eagles (10-19, 6-8), who come into town looking to avoid injury and keep a hot hand headed into the final games of the season. Their player to watch will be Emmanuel Nzekwesi who averages 14.9 points per game and 8.3 rebounds per game, which is fourth in The Summit League. He will be up against Gilbeck down in the paint, so he will have his work cut out for him.

This is the Leathernecks last chance to show their fans what they have, and how good it can be. Hopefully their performance can spark a run and a hot streak in March as the Summit League tournament is just a few weeks away.