By John Bohnenkamp
MACOMB, Ill. — It would have been the perfect way for Western Illinois to get out of its current funk.
Beat a program that went to the NCAA tournament regional semifinals last season, one that is a Summit League title contender this season? Do that, and what has happened over the last couple of weeks would feel like a long time ago.
Instead, the Leathernecks had another loss to stew on in Saturday’s 87-86 defeat to Oral Roberts at Western Hall.
It was the fourth consecutive loss for the Leathernecks (10-6 overall, 1-3 Summit League), one that left them lamenting the opportunities they had in this game.
Luka Barisic’s baseline jumper as time expired rolled off the rim, ending what was quite the show from two of the top three scoring offenses in the conference.
“When you lose by one, you can always go back and say, ‘Man, if I would have just worked a little harder here, a little tougher here, maybe that swings it,’” Western Illinois coach Rob Jeter said.
“We’ve been coming off a slump, and we’re still in it,” said forward Tamell Pearson, who led the Leathernecks with 21 points and 11 rebounds. “Coach always emphasizes digging out of it, and this would have been a good way to do it.
“You feel like, ‘What could I have done to close it out?’”
The Leathernecks opened the game with a 27-12 run in the first 7 ½ minutes, but they had two shooting slumps — a 1-for-11 stretch in the first half and a 1-for-9 stretch early in the second — and they came at the worst times in what was a game of back-and-forth runs.
“Guys were getting good shots,” Pearson said.
Still, they had their chance at the end.
Oral Roberts’ Max Abmas, who had a 32-point, 11-assist game, missed a 3-pointer with 13 seconds left. Pearson grabbed the long rebound and got the ball to Barisic along the baseline. Barisic, who had 19 points, got the open look, but the shot slid off the rim.
“I let it go, because you’ve got to get a shot, right?” said Jeter, who had a timeout to use. “We got a 12-footer? From Luka? Luka makes those. At the end of the day, it’s about getting a good look. I don’t know if I could draw anything up for a better look. We’re down one, so we just needed a bucket. I let it play out.”
The Leathernecks trailed 76-67 with 8:30 to play, but came back to take an 83-82 lead when Barisic made two free throws with 2:19 left. But Abmas answered with a 3-pointer 13 seconds later.
“That was our shot to get a stand, get a stop,” Jeter said. “That’s one that kind of sticks in my mind.”
The five Western Illinois starters all scored in double figures. Trenton Massner had 16 points. Will Carius had 15. Colton Sandage had 11.
Elijah Lufile had 18 for Oral Roberts (11-6, 5-1), who had 42 points in the paint.
“What would you rather have them shoot, twos or threes?” Jeter said. “You’ve got to pick your poison.”
The Leathernecks are on the road next week, going to North Dakota and North Dakota State.
“We always talk about attitudes, trying to fix things on and off the court,” Pearson said. “We just have to keep working.”