(Photo of WIU's Garret Covington by Dick Carlson/Inertia)
Despite an impressive effort in the Summit League Tournament Quarterfinals, the 8th seeded Western Illinois Men's Basketball Team fell 78-69 in overtime to South Dakota. Western was down as much as 9 in the second half, but scratched and clawed their way back, forcing overtime at 68 all. In the extra five minutes the Leathernecks went ice cold from the field, shooting 0-9 en route to the season ending loss.
Western Illinois came into this game losing four straight contests to close the regular season, but all of those losses were close. Two of their last three games heading into tonight went to overtime, including a double-overtime contest at North Dakota State two weeks ago. However, the trend ultimately continued of the Leathernecks sticking with a talented opponent, but ultimately coming up on the short end of the stick.
The first half was deceptive. When watching the game it was one that looked like South Dakota had clear control. The Coyotes didn't shoot well by any stretch, but seemed to have an easier time getting clean looks at the hoop than Western did. Even so, the defecit never hit double digits, and the teams went into halftime tied at 37 following a CJ Duff buzzer-beater three.
Much of the same transpired early in the second. Western remained close but South Dakota seemed to have a response for every Leatherneck answer. Midway into the second half though, that changed.
First there was the 7-0 WIU run that trimmed a nine point defecit to two at 54-52. Then Western closed within one at 61-60 with 5:45 remaining. It no longer felt like a game that was in the grasp of the one seed. It was anybody's ballgame.
WIU managed to take a 65-63 lead on a Brandon Gilbeck dunk with 3:18 remaining. Both teams went cold for a couple of minutes following that, but USD managed to take the lead with 32 seconds remaining on a Matt Mooney step back trey.
(Photo of WIU sophomore forward Brandon Gilbeck by Dick Carlson/Inertia)
Western of course responded. With 12 seconds left on the clock, Duff splashed home another big outside shot, canning a three from the left wing to knot it up at 68. The Leathernecks got the ensuing stop and nearly had the halfcourt prayer of junior guard Dalan Ancrum answered. The ball did not fall in though and it went to overtime, where the wheels fell off.
(Photo of South Dakota bench celebration by Dick Carlson/Inertia)
Senior Garret Covington finished his storybook career at Western Illinois with 25 points and 6 assists. Fellow senior Mike Miklusak struggled offensively (3-15 FG), but managed to cap off his career with a 10 point 10 rebound effort. Duff compiled 12 points, and sophomore forward Jalen Morgan played an efficient 15 minutes off the bench, finishing with 8 points on 4-5 shooting.
While it certainly doesn't make any of the players or coaches feel better, it truly was a captivating environment. With a large contingent of South Dakota fans on hand, there was that tough road environment that Western was prepared for. On the other hand, there were many South Dakota State fans in attendance as well, with the Jacks faithful vying for a purple and gold upset over the one seed.
Western Illinois finishes the season at 8-20, ending the year losing their final five games.
WIU Head Coach Billy Wright Postgame:
South Dakota Head Coach Craig Smith and Players Matt Mooney and Tyler Flack: