Leathernecks shock SDSU in improbable quarterfinal upset

Brad Piros, Sports Editor

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – The Western Illinois University men’s basketball team took down the South Dakota State Jackrabbits for the first time in three years. The Leathernecks narrowly won their quarterfinal matchup 79-76 to become the first No. 8 seed to win in The Summit League Tournament’s history.

Western didn’t only win this game, they dominated the majority of it. Western started the game with a three-pointer by freshman forward Ben Pyle. That was just the beginning for him. Fellow freshman guard Zion Young also had himself a night, as he went in for a layup to take an early 5-0 lead.

SDSU only led this game for 15 seconds, and it was when sophomore guard David Jenkins pulled up for a two-point jumper. The score was then 13-12. Western immediately struck back when Pyle put in another three-pointer. Then they struck again when sophomore forward Kobe Webster went for his second three-pointer of the night and splashed it in. Western regained the lead 18-13.

It was a back and forth half, seeing Pyle and Webster doing most of the early scoring as the Leathernecks led SDSU 38-28 after one half of play. Western was now in the same boat they were in the year before. But there is no lead comfortable enough against the Jackrabbits’ offense.

The second saw many players, from both teams, ending up in foul trouble, including Western’s own senior center Brandon Gilbeck. Gilbeck leads the entire NCAA with blocked shots but saw himself with four fouls halfway through the second half. That’s because he had the ever so difficult task of guarding big man Mike Daum all game.

Daum was fourth in the NCAA in scoring heading into the matchup, and Western have had many problems with him before as he can shoot from anywhere on the court. Named Summit League Player of the Year, the Leathernecks knew exactly what they were getting into. This is why Western won the game; they kept Daum to a relatively low 16 points and kept him frustrated the whole night.

The entire game featured back and forth action, but it was the last minute of the game that terrified Western fans. The Leathernecks had an 11-point, 72-61 lead with 2:36 remaining. It seemed over, but that was dead wrong.

Jenkins made a triple to start the run. Tevin King made a layup on a fast break. It was now 72-66. Webster made a free-throw, but missed the second, taking back a seven-point lead with 1:56 to go. Then Jenkins made another three.

Western rallied back with a jumper from Webster and a made free-throw from Pyle. The score was 76-70, now with only 43 seconds left. King went in for another layup for SDSU and then came up with a steal and was fouled. He made one free-throw but not the other; it was now 76-73 with 30 seconds left.

After the inbound, SDSU immediately fouled Gilbeck to bring him to the line; he went 1-1. Then Jenkins made another three-pointer. It was now 77-76 with 14 seconds remaining. SDSU had no other option to foul on the inbound, this time it was junior guard Keshon Montague.

The game came down to these free-throws. Make both and an SDSU three ties the game, make one and a three wins the game, miss both a simple layup can win the game. Without any hesitation he swished them both. SDSU could now only tie the game with a three and take it to overtime.

The Jackrabbits inbounded the ball, with everyone inside the Premier Center in Sioux Falls on their feet. The ball came to the hands of Jenkins as he let up a three at the buzzer, but it slid off the rim and out securing Western’s improbable upset.

Western succeeded in the two things they needed to do in order to win this game; they locked down Daum and distributed the workload. Daum was held to 16  points, and five Leathernecks scored double-digits.

Having the game of his life was Pyle. The freshman tallied 17 points and nine rebounds. Coming up clutch as always was Webster with another 17 points, four rebounds, three assists and a steal. Sophomore forward Isaac Johnson may have fouled out of the game, but he still put up 13. Rounding it out was Young and Gilbeck who each tallied 13 as well.

Overall, Western went 7-19 from beyond the arc and 14-25 from the foul line. The Leathernecks lucked out as SDSU only went 5-20 on three-pointers on the night.

Now Western will have to wait to see who their opponent for tomorrow will be. They’ll play the winner of the third quarterfinal game between No. 4 seed North Dakota State and No. 5 Oral Roberts. That game is tonight at 6. p.m. All quarterfinal matchups can be watched on ESPN+ with The Summit League Championship being decided on ESPN2 this Tuesday.

Until then, Western can relax and celebrate the win a little bit, but they still have so much to prove in Sioux Falls. Western takes back to the court tomorrow at 6 p.m. in the semifinals.

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