EVANSVILLE, Ind. — The Western Illinois Fighting Leathernecks (2-6) tipped off against the Evansville Purple Aces (6-3) on Wednesday night.
Leathernecks were looking to continue to add more wins after their shaky start to the season, but standing in the way on Wednesday was the streaky Purple Aces who have been very impressive to start the season. Not only are they 6-3, but they also defeated number one ranked Kentucky early on in the season, and Western Illinois had their hands full in a very anticipated matchup.
The game got off to a hot start, and for Western Illinois it was the usual suspects who got going early and often in Webster and Pyle. However, what was very impressive is that the Leathernecks defensive game took a notable step up from their previous matchups. They held Evansville to 39 points in the first half, and went into the break up by four.
In the second half, it was back and forth, but Evansville came out of the locker room ready to find the bottom of the basket and they did just that. They outscored the Leathernecks by eight points, and were able to defeat Western Illinois 90-86. It was another close loss for Western Illinois as conference play inches closer, but as always, there are things the team can build off of. Sophomore Ben Pyle scored 18 points and junior Kobe Webster dropped 19 points in only 16 minutes of action.
Coach Billy Wright knows how tough of an opponent Evansville is, but felt his team could have pulled off an upset on the road.
“What jumps out at me right away were the 17 turnovers and the 28 points from our own mistakes. With that many turnovers, it’s hard to beat anyone, let alone a quality program like Evansville, who just beat the No. 1 team in the country in Kentucky,” Wright said in an interview with WIU Athletics.
“We’re better than that, in terms of our turnovers and offensive efficiency. It comes down to us taking care of the basketball,” Wright said.
It was another game that was decided in the final minutes, but Western Illinois was unable to cross the finish line with the lead. It was the team’s fifth loss out of six losses where the game was decided within seven points or less.
I thought we played with a tremendous amount of toughness. Our guys competed from beginning to end, fought through some adverse situations, and gave us the chance to win in the end,” said Wright.
Western Illinois is still trying to work out all the kinks to this young team, but the parts are all there to make sure this team is ready to compete come conference play. Western Illinois will look to get back on track on Monday at home against in-state rival Eastern Illinois. The two universities will be playing for the Battle Axe of Illinois, and Western will look to reclaim the trophy after losing it a season ago. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. from Western Hall.