Men’s basketball look to continue winning ways

Titus Perez, Courier Staff

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DENVER — This past Saturday marked the first win of the month for the Western Illinois University Leathernecks (9-18, 4-10 Summit) defeating Oral Roberts University Golden Eagles (10-20, 6-9 Summit) on senior night. The win for WIU didn’t just snap a five game losing streak and send the seniors out the right way, it also set the Leathernecks up to gain momentum heading into the Summit League tournament, which starts March 9. The Leathernecks have two games left in the regular season before the tournament begins, each of them are on the road. The first will be against the University of Denver Pioneers (7-21, 2-12 Summit). The Pioneers will come into the game on a seven game losing streak, and WIU will be hoping to repeat the 78-60 win they conquered on Dec. 30 in Macomb.

The Necks had five players in double figures in that game, led by this season’s leading scorer, sophomore guard Kobe Webster. His 22 points set the pace in that win and the team followed his lead, shooting exceptionally from the field by hitting 50 percent of their shots. Asking for a repeat shooting performance in this game could be a stretch, especially on the road, so the Necks will have to play some solid defense and be patient on offense. Being patient on offense will allow the Necks to exploit the weak Pioneers defense, who allows opponents to shoot 42 percent from three, giving up 11 a game. A way to get shooters open is to bring forth center Brandon Gilbeck. While Gilbeck is not a dynamic scorer, he’s one of the tallest players in the Summit League and demands double teams; those double teams can lead to open three point shooters for the Leathernecks. Gilbeck played just 12 minutes in the first game between the two teams, which could be a direct correlation to the poor three point shootings by the Necks. Having him more involved this time around should change that.

Freshman guard Zion Young could play a major role in this game as well, after getting his first conference start last game where he scored 12 points, swishing three of six three point attempts. That type of spark is exactly what head coach Billy Wright was looking for when he made the switch to Young. Wright should also try to get Webster out there earlier on. Webster seems to struggle the entire game when he doesn’t get off to a good start. If he is pressing and forcing shots, the team will get out of rhythm. If this happens Denver will most likely take advantage. Western’s biggest concern will be senior guard Ronnie Harrell Jr. Denver’s leading scorer (13.2 point per game) on the season has torched Summit League opponents from three all year. Harrell played his first three years for the University of Creighton Blue Jays, and is well adapted to playing in big games. He’s looking to go out with a bang as his college career comes to an end. Ade Murkey leads Denver in scoring with 15 points the first time these two teams played. He’s another player the Necks have to keep an eye on. He is their most efficient player and can explode at any time, scoring 31 points in a game earlier this season against the University of Northern Colorado Bears.

If the Leathernecks can jump on the Pioneers early, the game could be another blowout win. Allowing Denver to hang around will cause trouble because Murkey and Harrell have the talent to finish an opponent. The last time these two met, the Necks seemed to have figured the Pioneers out. They outscored them in the second half by 13 points, an encouraging sign heading into this game. Western should be focused on winning back-to-back games in conference for just the second time this season. Doing so would be big for conference standings heading into their last game of the season. You can catch it all on WRMS radio. Tip-off begins at 8 p.m this Thursday.

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