MACOMB, IL – How do you top a program-record for points on Monday and a buzzer-beating victory on Thursday? How about one of the biggest come-from-behind victories in program history on Saturday?
A wild, heart-stopping week ended in wild-heart-stopping fashion as the Leathernecks overcame a 22-point South Dakota State lead to stun the Jackrabbits in overtime 81-73 on Saturday afternoon inside Western Hall.
The win moved the Leathernecks (14-8, 7-4) to second place overall in the Summit League and saw the program extend its winning streak to five.
“That game was incredible, to do it against that team, a team that has been winning the league and has that championship culture makes it special,” Western Illinois coach Rob Jeter said. “But for the guys to figure out a way, we were down, the energy was low, then as we created a little bit of momentum, we were down 12 but the energy in the building picked up, that was key, the energy in the building when we were down four and two carried us through.”
The Jacks came out hot and built the 22-point advantage, 39-17 with two minutes, 32 seconds to go in the half before the Leathernecks were able to cut the deficit to 17 at the break.
From there, Western Illinois slowly began to chip away as Trenton Massner (30 points, nine points, eight assists), Alec Rosner (16 points, all in the second half), Jesiah West (nine points, 13 rebounds, four assists, three blocks), Quinlan Bennett (10 points, five rebounds) and Vuk Stevanic (six points, five rebounds and three assists) began to make plays.
“To me, a couple guys, obviously Trenton making shots picks the energy up, Jesiah making blocks and getting his hands on things, finishing dunks does it and the other spark today, Alec, his three to tie the game, he was aggressive going for his shot, it was a combination of guys and things as well,” Jeter said. “Our team revolves around Trenton, when he’s making shots, we’re different, but the guy who can halt a comeback, steal a game away on the defensive side is Jesiah.
“Jesiah had a couple steals on the press only he can get. With his wingspan and athleticism, he can get those passes they try to loop over the top, then of course Trenton has put us on his back the last four games.”
Western Illinois opened the second half with a run to cut the deficit to nine (46-37) at the 14:50 mark, but the Jackrabbits responded with a run of their own to push the advantage back to 18, 60-42, with 8:31 to go.
From there, the Leathernecks would take over as Rosner hit a basket to make it a 16-point game. KJ Lee’s three made it a 13-point SDSU lead, setting the stage for Rosner, who scored WIU’s next seven points to make it an eight-point game, 62-54, with 5:58 left. West would score the next four, setting up Massner’s, whose three-point cut the Jack lead to one, 62-61 with 3:59 left.
After a South Dakota State basket, Rosner hit another clutch bucket, tying the game, 64-64. SDSU scored five of the next seven points, going up 69-66, but a Massner three with 1:28 tied the game at 69, a spot the score remained until the end of regulation.
In overtime, it was all Leathernecks, as Western Illinois scored the first nine points of overtime. Rosner hit two free throws, Massner banged home a three, Stevanic hit a basket, which was followed by a Massner basket.
“Every player made a difference, Vuk diving out of bounds to save the ball, hitting that teardrop,” Jeter said. “Q (Bennett) going hard, getting a block, making the extra pass, Jesiah blocking shots, every player had an impact down the stretch. It’s good to see that group effort, I’m not sure how we did it, The Miracle in Macomb, I guess.”
The victory set off a wild celebration as players went into the stands and student section to celebrate the team’s four-game home sweep of conference foes, which started last Saturday.
“It’s good for everybody, this place persevered, now it seems like we’re building some positives, if we can help out, it’s awesome,” WIU coach Rob Jeter said. “Our guys wanted to give back, they did that on their own, they said, ‘hey, let’s go say thank you to the people.’ It was good to see us persevere, comeback, now we’re riding that wave.
“It was fun seeing everyone having a good time, see the happy smiles and positive vibes in this place. Western Hall was rocking.”
Western Illinois now heads to the road, hoping to keep hold of second place in the conference, visiting Denver on Thursday and Omaha on Saturday. WIU has won five straight, a streak that began on the road.
“It started off at Kansas City, we went to Oral Roberts and got blown out, but we figured out a way to win in KC,” Jeter said. “Then we came home, we had St. Thomas, Trenton tweaks his ankle, but we win. Then we win vs. North Dakota, who was playing really well, but we had Trenton’s performance on Monday. Then that carries us through to the game-winner against South Dakota, then tonight.
“It’s good when it happens at home, for us, this place, this town, this community, this university, it creates energy, momentum, some positive vibes. It’s fun to be part of that.”
Western Illinois went 31-61 from the field, 7-20 from three. The Leathernecks rebounded in the second half, shooting 17-28 from the field after the break, including 5-11 from three. WIU controlled the glass, outrebounding South Dakota State 45-28.
Copy Provided By Western Athletic Communications