WIU 71, EASTERN ILLINOIS 54: A Milestone Win, And A Historic Start

By John Bohnenkamp

The 200th win of Rob Jeter’s head coaching career wasn’t smooth.

But it was another victory in Western Illinois’ historic start to the season.

Saturday’s 71-54 home victory over Eastern Illinois was the ninth win for the Leathernecks in 11 games, the program’s best start since moving to NCAA Division I play in the 1981-82 season. It’s also the best start since the 1980-81 team went 9-2.

The career win total is something Jeter said he shared with associate head coach Chad Boudreau, who has been with Jeter at his head-coaching stops at Milwaukee and now at Western Illinois.

“All it means is we’ve been around for a long time,” Jeter said of the milestone. “Got gray hairs. Had some good runs, some good teams. This is another group that’s making its mark toward being one of our better teams.”

The win also meant the Leathernecks took possession of the Old Railsplitter Ax, which goes to the winner of the in-state series that dates back to 1927.

Forward Will Carius didn’t bring the Ax to the post-game media availability.

“I don’t know who has it,” Carius said, laughing. “It is cool.”

It was the last nonconference game before the Leathernecks open Summit League play, and it was a game that Jeter described as “choppy.”

Western Illinois led all but two minutes. But the Leathernecks shot just 44.1 percent from the field, 39.4 percent in the second half. They committed 11 turnovers.

The Leathernecks hadn’t played since a 97-70 win at Central Michigan on December 5. Jeter said he had tried to schedule a game to cut into the layoff, but couldn’t find anybody. 

“Obviously, with the layoff, we were very lethargic, very choppy tonight,” Jeter said. “A win’s a win. We’ll take the win and move on.

“The timing was off, you could see that. Our pace was off.”

“Just knocking some of the cobwebs off,” said Carius, who led the Leathernecks with 25 points. “It’s a little different when you’re playing against yourselves for a whole week and then come out against another team. I think we responded well. Obviously we didn’t play perfect, but we did enough to get back into it.”

Carius had seven 3-pointers.

“Will makes tough shots,” Jeter said. “He’s just a winner, man — he just makes plays.”

The Leathernecks also got 18 points from Trenton Massner and 11 from Luka Barisic.

Western Illinois’ defense held Eastern Illinois (2-10) to 40.4 percent shooting and forced 13 turnovers.

“We were able to hold them to (54) points, and that’s good,” Jeter said.

The Leathernecks play at Denver on Monday and at Omaha on Wednesday to open the conference schedule.

“We’re very confident,” Carius said. “Obviously there are some places we can still improve. But we’re excited.”

Photo: Trenton Massner pets Col. Rock IV, the Western Illinois mascot, during the introductions of the starting lineup on Saturday.

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