MACOMB, Ill. — The Western Illinois University men’s basketball team (5-19, 2-12) took on the University of Nebraska Omaha Mavericks (15-14, 8-6) last Saturday and were outscored 93-86 inside Western Hall on Senior Night.
Although it was a tough conference loss in a time when Western really needs to be picking up some wins, all things considered, it was still a good night for two reasons.
The first being that junior guard Kobe Webster broke Western’s single-game Division I scoring record by dropping 40 points, nearly half of the team’s total points in the home finale.
“I am going to do whatever I can for a chance to win,” Webster told WIU Athletics Communications after the game. “If that means scoring 40 points or having 12 assists or grabbing 10 rebounds, I am out there to win.”
While dropping 40 points is always going to be impressive, Webster was outshined by senior guard C.J. Duff. He may have only scored nine points on the night, but that was just enough for him to eclipse the 1,000-point mark in his collegiate career.
“That is something to reflect on when the time comes,” Duff told Athletics. “It is a big accomplishment and I am very blessed since a lot of people don’t get the opportunity, but I am looking at a chance to play in the postseason. That’s my only mindset right now.”
He’s right, not a lot of people get that opportunity. Only 23 other players have reached the “1K Club” in program history, Webster being the last Leatherneck to do so earlier this season.
Turning the page from Senior Night, the Leathernecks still have two games remaining and they’ll need to win at least one of them and/or receive a little bit of help from Fort Wayne if they want to make the tournament. Western currently sits tied for last place in The Summit with the University of Denver Pioneers, both with 2-12 conference records.
Here are the two most likely possibilities for Western to make The Summit League Tournament: Denver loses to Fort Wayne which means all Western will have to do is beat Denver on Saturday or Denver beats Fort Wayne which would mean Western will have to beat Oral Roberts and Denver.
Denver plays Fort Wayne tonight so Western will know what they have to do going into Tulsa, Okla. Either way, Western needs to start winning basketball games and gaining some momentum heading toward the tournament.
The Leathernecks will take on the Oral Roberts University Golden Eagles tomorrow night on the road. ORU (14-13, 7-7) currently sit tied for fifth in The Summit with the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks. They are coming off a 100-96 overtime loss to Denver last Thursday.
ORU is led by redshirt-senior forward Emmanuel Nzekwesi. He has the team’s best field goal percentage of 56.1 percent and averages a team high 17.2 points per game. He’s followed by senior guard Deondre Burns with 15.7 points per game and freshman guard Max Abmas with 14.5. The team as a whole average 79.7 points a game compared to Western’s 75.
The Leathernecks will depend on Webster to have another big outing as well as sophomores Zion Young and Ben Pyle. Young is second on the team, behind Webster, with 13.4 points per game followed by Pyle averaging 11.8. The other two starters James Claar and Duff will have to step it up a little from the last game if Western wants to come away with a win.
The good news is that the Leathernecks decide their own destiny. They don’t have to rely on help from anyone else. Win both games and they’re in. Lose both games and they’re out. Lose to ORU, then they rely on Fort Wayne to beat Denver. It’s all a bit crazy, so it seems like March Madness is starting a little early this year.
Western takes on ORU tomorrow night at 7:30 p.m. in Tulsa and then they’ll wrap up their regular season on Saturday in Denver at 2 p.m.