Men’s basketball top Oral Roberts on senior night


File Photo

Brandon Gilbeck goes up for a layup against St, Mary’s.

Brendan Reidy , Courier Staff

MACOMB, Ill. – The Western Illinois Leathernecks (9-18) defeated the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles (10-20) this past Saturday. “You always want to send your seniors out with a win,” said coach Billy Wright after the victory. This game was the last one for seniors Brandon Gilbeck, Otis Dortch, Ryan Maas and Jordan Hughes. These players had tremendous Leatherneck careers, and their teammates made sure their last home game was a memorable one.

The atmosphere was spectacular for sending out the four senior Leathernecks. It was arguably the biggest game of their career at Western. Their playoff hopes were on the line, and they had to win against the up-and-coming Oral Roberts to basically clinch the No. 8 seed in the Summit League Tournament, pending a University of Denver loss. The game got off to an extremely slow start and the game was highlighted by the Leatherneck defense early on. Western Illinois started the game on a 12-0 run, and the Golden Eagles did not score their first bucket until the 12-minute mark of the first half.

It was an all-around team effort as the Purple and Gold had five players in double figures, but the big story of the night was Hughes. He had one of the best games inside the Western Hall. As a player who hasn’t had his name out there as the other players have, he came to play on senior night. He dropped 10 points off the bench and delivered down the stretch when his team needed a crucial rebound. I had the chance to talk with Hughes before the matchup, and I asked him what his favorite moment was during his time at Western. He said, “probably beating Wisconsin on the road my freshman year. You couldn’t have asked for a better way to start.” However, after Saturday’s big win, he now may have a new favorite memory.

Western Illinois had a tough matchup against Oral Roberts but simply outplayed them to get the victory. The Leathernecks shot 43 percent from the field and 39 percent from downtown. The offense was evenly distributed throughout the score sheet, but if you were at the game, you know Webster was the X-Factor. He dropped 13 points, added six boards and five assists. In the biggest games, he always comes to play. For the Golden Eagles, Emmanuel Nzekwesi was their go-to guy. He was making his return from injury, and lit up the stat sheet. He had 15 points to go along with 13 rebounds.

The Leathernecks are on the road for two games against Denver and South Dakota State to wrap up their regular season campaign. If all goes to plan, Western Illinois will play in Sioux Falls, S.D. over spring break. With the Leathernecks beginning to heat up, anything is possible come March, and the Purple and Gold have some unfinished business come tournament time.

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