Leathernecks’ rally comes up short against SDSU

Zion+Young+shoots+a+three+during+warmups.

Becca Langys

Zion Young shoots a three during warmups.

Brendan Reidy, Courier Staff

MACOMB, Ill. — The Western Illinois Fighting Leathernecks faced off against top ranked Summit League opponent, South Dakota State on Saturday.

In a game that was exactly a month away from March, the Leathernecks were looking  to start the madness a little early this season, and they almost did.

The game got off to a fast start where it saw the game go back and forth early on. It wasn’t until midway through the first half that the Jackrabbits began to pull away.

Throughout the first half, SDSU was getting everything to go their way. They shot over 50 percent from the field and were absolutely dismantling the Leathernecks on the glass. It seemed like new year same story for Western Illinois as they headed into the break down by a margin. However, at the half, head coach Billy Wright says the recipe to get back into the game was easy, and his message to his team was simple: just pass and share the basketball.

Unlike their previous matchups, the Leathernecks were able to keep pace with their opponents out of the break, something they have struggled with all season long. However, midway through the half, the Purple and Gold hit a roadblock and went down by as many as 20 points.

All hope seemed to be lost until junior center Kyle Arrington checked into the ball game and dropped six straight points for Western Illinois. The comeback train was just leaving the station, and the intensity level on defense helped push the Leathernecks back into the ball game. Late in the contest, the Leathernecks were nipping at the heels of the Jackrabbits, and a sophomore guard Zion Young triple cut their lead to just two points. However, that was the closest the Leathernecks would get to making a comeback victory. They fell in the final minute, losing by 10 points, 71-61. Young and sophomore forward Ben Pyle led the way for Western Illinois, scoring 16 and 15 points, respectively, but coach Wright doesn’t think they could have done it without the fans at Western Hall.

“The fans really stuck with us, and we feed off the energy they gave. Our guys showed that when they make their minds up to play the right way, the entire 40 minutes, we’re very capable of beating anyone in this league,” Wright said to WIU Athletics Communications.

The Leathernecks get back in action on Feb. 5 as they take the road to tip off against Purdue Fort Wayne.