By John Bohnenkamp
MACOMB, Ill. — Trenton Massner’s kick of the scorer’s table after the final buzzer wasn’t just for the frustration of his missed shot that could have tied the game.
It was a release of the anger for his entire team.
Western Illinois’ 75-72 loss to South Dakota on Monday night at Western Hall was a game in which the Leathernecks were chasing the Coyotes from the beginning, and squandered the chances to catch them.
The Leathernecks (12-8 overall, 3-5 Summit League) trailed 74-72 with 2:09 to play in the game and had four chances to tie or take the lead, and didn’t score.
“Just mental mistakes,” said assistant coach Kyle Heikkinen. “We had opportunities for us to take the lead at the end.”
The best opportunity came with 48 seconds left and George Dixon at the free-throw line with a chance to tie the game. His first free throw of the one-and-bonus opportunity was good, but it was waved off because of a lane violation on the Leathernecks, giving the ball back to the Coyotes.
“The lane violation was a killer,” Heikkinen said. “That cannot happen.”
Massner, who had 17 points, had two shots in the closing seconds that missed. He missed inside with five seconds to play, and South Dakota’s Damani Hayes was fouled after getting the rebound.
Hayes missed the first free throw and then made the second for a 75-72 lead. After a timeout, the Leathernecks drew up a play with Tamell Pearson throwing a long pass to Will Carius, who caught the ball in front of the Western Illinois bench and immediately called a timeout.
Massner threw the inbounds pass to Carius, who faked a pass to Colton Sandage before throwing to Massner in the corner. The shot was contested, but Massner was able to keep the shot on target.
“We’ve run that quite a few times,” Heikkinen said. “Drew it up, looked like it was going to go in, but it didn’t.”
The night was a constant pursuit for the Leathernecks after South Dakota (12-7, 5-3) opened the game with a 10-0 run.
“You felt like you were climbing uphill all night,” Heikkinen said. “At the beginning, we didn’t come out with much emotion. One of the things that we’ve been stressing is try to get faster starts. We kind of fall into lulls at the start.
“It felt like we were (chasing points). You’re chasing that 10-point lead for the entire game.”
Western Illinois fought back to trail 34-30 at halftime, and then took the lead with 15:51 to play on Sandage’s layup. But South Dakota got the lead back 15 seconds later, and the pursuit resumed.
Luka Barisic led Western Illinois with 18 points. Sandage had 15 and Pearson had 10.
Tasos Kamateros led South Dakota with 17 points and 10 rebounds.