MACOMB, IL – The Western Illinois men’s basketball team was able to get back to its winning ways on Saturday, snapping a three-game losing streak with a 91-74 victory over Denver inside Western Hall. The Leathernecks improve to 9-7 overall, 2-3 in the Summit League with the win.
“It was good bouncing back after three straight,” WIU guard Alec Rosner said. “We got in a little rhythm before break, but we came back not the same. I think this was a good game, now we have to build on it.”
Rosner had it going, especially in the first half, scoring 17 of his season-high 28 points before the break. For the game, Rosner went 8-13 from the field, 7-10 from three and added three steals on defense.
“I felt like I was in a little slump the last three after break, so I was getting up extra reps after practice and before shoot-arounds, I had to re-find my rhythm,” Rosner said.
Western Illinois led 37-25 at the break and were able to stretch the lead to 13, 57-44 with 11 minutes, 46 seconds left in the game, but plagued by foul trouble, the Leathernecks allowed the Pioneers to creep back into the game and cut the WIU lead to five, 64-59, with 6:32 left.
But the Leathernecks were able to fight off Denver, going on a 10-0 run to push the lead back out to 15, showing a different side of themselves than they have shown the past three games.
“Tonight, even when they got it to five, it felt like, ‘OK, we can still get a good shot to go in,’ and then we would,” WIU coach Rob Jeter said. “It’s these dudes.”
Rosner scored the first eight points of the run, hitting two three-pointers with a pair of free throws mixed in-between.
“Three-pointers, they sting the other team, it takes the life out of them and energizes us,” Jeter said. “I told them, threes and dunks, they electrify the crowd and demoralize the other team, when you make those shots, you see a little bit come out of the other team. That’s what we’re trying to do, take a little life out of them so we can capitalize on some other stuff.
“There’s something about the three-pointer that does that. It takes a special group of guys, who after the three goes in and they get scored on to brush it off, it’s difficult.”
Trenton Massner was also key on Saturday, scoring a season-high 29 points. Massner was able to do the bulk of his scoring after the break, exploding for 23-second half points. Massner also added eight assists.
“The first half I was thinking, ‘here we go again,’ I couldn’t make anything, but he (Rosner) was keeping us afloat,” Massner said. “I think it’s important to have both of us going that way, I was just trying to impact the game in other ways when I didn’t have my shot going, then in the second half, I saw one go through and from then on, things were going in. It’s fun when he’s going, it takes a lot of pressure off me so I take good shots and don’t have to keep trying to get it going with one shot.”
And while Massner and Rosner carried the bulk of the scoring, KJ Lee provided big minutes and points off the bench, scoring 10.
“KJ coming in and hitting a three was big, then he added two layups, he was big off the bench, he was good,” Rosner said. “Add our offensive and defensive subs at the end, we were able to facilitate extra sets.”
Vuk Stevanic also had his usual, solid performance, adding 13 points and six rebounds.
“Vuk has been steady all conference, he gives us a post presence, so when we throw it inside, the defense has to honor the post,” Rosner said. “He opens a lot up too, he’s smart, we can play through him, he’s a great passer and has good touch around the rim.”
Overall, the Leathernecks went 31-62 from the field (50 percent), 12-24 (50 percent) from three and 17-28 from the line. Western Illinois also added 21 fast-break points.
The Leathernecks now hit the road, taking on Summit League leader Oral Roberts in Tulsa on Thursday and Kansas City on Saturday.
“We win six in a row, we lose three in a row, so to have a good showing tonight a couple days late when we were not playing with a rhythm is big,” Jeter said. “Not to take anything away from what Omaha did, but we did not look like ourselves. It was good to see us have that Leatherneck look and style to us, playing well again.”
Copy provided by Western Athletics Communications