The Western Illinois men’s basketball team faced off with Denver at Western Hall on Saturday, January 11, as the Leathernecks looked to lock up their second Summit League win. The Pioneers made a furious push towards the victory after being down 55-40 shortly after the start of the second half, getting the score to 79-78, before Ben Pyle knocked down a huge 3 to put the Leathernecks up 4. That shot allowed Kobe Webster and Zion Young to ice the game late with big free throws, and WIU escaped with an 86-80 win.
The Leatherneck offense was humming as soundly as ever on Saturday, with the men astoundingly shooting exactly 50% both from the field and from 3, while they crucially knocked down 78% of their shots from the charity stripe. Pyle was the man for the moment not only on that clutch 3 but the “Mop-head from McPherson”, as Danny Frey put it on the commentary, put up 21 overall on 7-11 from the field and 4-6 from 3. Webster and Young both added 17 points as Young nailed the first three of the contest for what feels like the millionth time this season, while CJ Duff added 12 and Roderick Smith added a big 8 points off the bench in one of his best performances of the season. The Leathernecks have proven several times this season that they can shoot and score with just about anyone, the question still remains, can they defend enough?
For Denver it was all about one man, Jase Townsend. The Sophomore guard seemingly dragged the Pioneers into the game on his back as he hit late shot after late shot to make WIU sweat out the win. He finished the day with a game-high 28 points on an extremely efficient 11-18 shooting from the field and 3-5 from 3, while Ade Murkey added 14 and Robert Jones put up a solid 13. All three of the Pioneers’ scoring leaders also added at least 5 rebounds, and all three shot 50% or better from the field. As a team Denver shot 52%, a figure WIU cannot keep allowing to happen if they have a hope of staying in contention for the Summit League Tournament. This week’s performances against PFW and the aforementioned Pioneers dropped the Leathernecks to 329th out of 353 division 1 programs in the KenPom Adjusted Defense rankings (points allowed per 100 possessions), which will be a massive problem for the remainder of the season should no improvement be seen.
WIU (5-10, 2-3) will move forward to face Oral Roberts on Thursday, January 16, with a tip off set inside Western Hall at 7 PM. Denver (4-15, 0-5) will continue its search for its first Summit League win when it takes on Omaha at home on Saturday, January 18 with a tip off from Denver set for 2 PM Central Time/1 PM Denver Time.