MACOMB – Sunday (Dec 29) was the start of Summit League play as Western Illinois men's basketball team will enter the new year with an 82-75 victory over South Dakota.
"It starts in practice for us," said head coach Billy Wright. "Coming back from break, you never know how the guys are going to respond, but we have great leadership, and it led to good practice and ultimately a great game. Our guys came ready to play, mentally and physically, and that's half the battle”.
The up-tempo offense had the crowd at Western Hall ecstatic to watch in the first half as the teams ripped up and down the court for a 39-38 Leatherneck advantage before the break. There were eight lead changes in the first half, including three within the final minute. The last lead change came from Junior Guard Kobe Webster when he raised up for a mid-range jumper before the break.
Both teams shot over 40 percent from the floor, and two players from each side were in double figures. Including Summit League Preseason Player of the Year Stanley Umede, who had 16 points.
Neither team pulled ahead by more than five points in the opening half, and the score sat within one or two possessions until Sophomore Zion Young drained a corner three in the second half which gave Western the 48-40 lead. The Coyotes pressured to tie things at 66-all with under 8 minutes with a trip to the line, but they couldn't obtain the lead again. The Leathernecks went on an 8-0 run with three-pointers from DreShawn Allen and Zion Young.
Young guided the Leatherneck lineup with a team-high 21 points, all of them recorded in the second quarter, and he was one of five starters to finish in double-digits. Zion Young didn't have a great first half start but kicked it into gear when it counted. The sophomore nearly recorded his second career double-double by grabbing a game-high nine rebounds.
More highlighted players are Webster who added 18 points and seven assists, C.J. Duff with 12 points and seven boards, Ben Pyle with 11 points and eight boards, and James Claar with 10 points.
Now the Leathernecks will continue their journey through the Summit League with a trip to the Dakotas. Action against North Dakota State is scheduled for Thursday at 8 p.m., and South Dakota State Saturday at 4:15 p.m.