Men’s basketball prepares for Evansville and seven-game winter break

Jacob Vanzuiden, Courier Staff

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The Western Illinois men’s basketball team prepares for their four-game December stretch beginning against the University of Evansville on Wednesday. Aside from Evansville, the Leathernecks’ home schedule over the holiday season will include three games versus Eastern Illinois, Holy Family College and South Dakota. The Purple and Gold come into Wednesday’s matchup with an overall record of 2-5 after enduring a rough first part of their early-season schedule.

Hopes are high as the Leathernecks travel to Evansville, Ind., having won two of their last three contests by overcoming Central Christian College of the Bible (where the team broke the 100 point threshold for the first time this year) and Ball State. Although, they dropped their most recent match to Kansas City, losing in heartbreaking fashion by a score of 68-67. Unfortunately, the Leathernecks have been no stranger to coming up short in close games, possessing a 1-4 record this year in games decided by seven or fewer points.

Western hasn’t had the greatest luck when playing Evansville in years past, as they’ll be seeking their first win in five games against the Purple Aces tracing all the way back to 2004. Evansville again boasts a strong squad this season, sitting with a record of 5-3. By far, their most impressive victory came against No. 1 ranked Kentucky, being seen as the biggest upset in all of college basketball thus far in 2019. In fact, according to ESPN Insider Jeff Borzello, this was the third largest college basketball upset in 15 years as Evansville came into the game as 25-point underdogs. This was also the first time prestigious Wildcat head coach John Calipari ever lost to a mid-major school.

The Purple Aces head into this showdown scoring an average of 76.9 points per game, led by senior guard K.J. Riley, who carries a 15.8 point-per-game average. The 6-foot-9-inch sophomore forward DeAndre Williams has also been a major problem for opposing frontcourts, placing second on the team in scoring (13.6 points per game) while pulling down an impressive 7.1 rebounds per game. However, it would be unfair not to mention both junior guards Artur Labinowicz and Sam Cunliffe, as well, both of whom are also averaging double figures in the scoring department this season.

The Leathernecks average slightly more points scored per game than their opponents at 80.1. If they hope to come into Ford Center and steal away a win, they’ll need continued contribution from their leading bucket-maker, junior guard Kobe Webster (16.3 points per game). If one thing is known about Webster, it’s that he can score with the best of them, entrenching his name on Western’s 1000 career points list earlier in the season – and he’s only a junior. Sophomore guard Zion Young has also played at a high level, pouring in an average of 15.3 points of his own. In order to compete with the rock-solid front court of the Purple Aces, sophomore forward Ben Pyle must be able to build off his last outing, where he notched a career-high 21 points to go along with seven boards and three blocks.

Although many close matchups haven’t swung in the Purple and Gold’s favor so far this season, they hope to reverse that trend Wednesday night. While Evansville may have the more impressive resume, the Leathernecks match up with them fairly in nearly every statistical category. As Western concludes this three-game road trip, they’ll be able to look forward to a three-game home stretch. If all goes well, this team could be sitting around .500 entering the new year.

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