The men’s basketball team traveled to Grand Forks, North Dakota to take on the Fighting Hawks of North Dakota in a doubleheader this past Friday and Saturday. The Leathernecks came into this weekend 2-11 on the season and looking for their first conference win of the year. The Fighting Hawks came into this weekend 4-13 overall, and 3-5 in the conference. The Leathernecks ended up coming out of the weekend with their first conference win of the year, splitting the two games.
Rob Jeter and the Leathernecks came in in desperate need of at least one win this weekend, as they were 0-6 in conference, tied with Denver as the worst team in The Summit League. The previous weekend, Western Illinois dropped two heartbreakers to the Coyotes of South Dakota by the scores of 65-60 and 84-74. They did show some real potential in those games, especially Colton Sandage, who had 17 points in a near comeback win.
Paul Sather and the Fighting Hawks came in at fifth in the conference. The previous weekend saw them get swept by the Jackrabbits of South Dakota State, and they came into this weekend looking to avenge those losses. They are led by leading scorer Filip Rebraca, who averages 17 points per game with a field goal percentage of 52.8.
The Leathernecks saw themselves out to a hot start in the first game. At the first media timeout, they were up 15-5, shooting 3-7 from the three-point line. Their hot hands and play continued throughout the half, especially from forward Will Carius, who poured in 22 first-half points. He only missed one field goal, going 6-7 from the field and 4-4 from the three-point arc. This led to the Leathernecks going into the half up 41-29. North Dakota on the year was 1-11 when trailing at halftime.
The second half saw the Leathernecks really start to crumble and lose their confidence from the first half. Ten minutes into the half, the Leathernecks held a lead as much as 16 points. Carius continued to dominate the floor, staying as the game’s leading scorer. At the last media timeout of the game, the Leathernecks were only up by two at 73-71. Guard Caleb Nero gave North Dakota the lead at 3:30, their first of the game. The Fighting Hawks carried this momentum and went on to win the first game of the weekend 83-81. Carius ended up finishing the game with 34 points, a game high. Sandage also poured in 18 points. North Dakota was led by the dominant play of Rebraca, who put up a double-double with 25 points and 14 rebounds. Bentiu Panoam also sparked the Hawks with 14 points.
The Leathernecks came into the second game trying not to repeat themselves from the night before. It was back and forth throughout the first half, but the Leathernecks saw themselves up four at the half, 46-42. The Leathernecks were led by guard Sandage, who poured in 13 first half points. Rebraca led the Hawks in scoring at the half with eight points.
The second half was much of the same as the first half. Both teams were going back and forth trading leads. What started to deflate North Dakota was foul trouble, as four players had four fouls at the five-minute mark. This gave the Leathernecks the opportunity to pull away late, and they capitalized on that as they went on to win 99-87. Sandage led the way by scoring 28 points. Carius poured in 19 points, continuing his hot hand, and Cam Burell dropped 14 to help the Leathernecks. North Dakota once again was led by Rebraca with 24 points. Tyree Ihenacho also helped the Fighting Hawks with 13 points.
The Leathernecks now stand at 3-12 overall, and 1-7 in the conference. They are now seventh in the conference. The Fighting Hawks drop to 5-14 overall and 4-6 in the conference. They stay in fifth overall in the conference.
Western Illinois will travel to Nebraska next weekend for a back-to-back with the Omaha Mavericks. Four of the last six games for the Leathernecks are against the bottom two teams in the conference, so there is a really good chance for them to keep jumping in the standings. North Dakota will go to Denver next weekend to take on the 1-12 Pioneers.