By John Bohnenkamp
MACOMB, Ill. — It took 50 seconds for Western Illinois to reveal its game plan against St. Thomas.
Luka Barisic, the tallest player on the floor at 6-foot-10, backed his way into the lane, and scored for the Leathernecks’ first points of the game.
It established what was coming.
Saturday’s 81-52 win for Western Illinois came from that size advantage. The Leathernecks had 48 points in the paint, compared to just 16 for the Tommies.
That was more than enough for Western Illinois (13-8 overall, 4-5 Summit League), who bounced back from back-to-back losses to South Dakota State and South Dakota to start a four-game homestand.
“It was a great feeling,” said Barisic, who had 17 points and 12 rebounds. “We talked before the game that this game was going to be very important for us to get us going. The last couple of weeks were tough. We lost some games we were planning to win. But this was a good comeback.”
“We just needed a win,” said associate head coach Chad Boudreau. “Our expectations are high. This time of year, you try to build momentum. And we needed momentum.”
It also avenged a 89-66 loss to St. Thomas on New Year’s Day. The Leathernecks tried to establish a post presence that day, but gave up 14 3-pointers to the Tommies (8-12, 2-6).
This time, Western Illinois held St. Thomas to just 7-of-32 shooting in 3-pointers.
“Up there, it looked like they had six guys on the floor and we had four,” Boudreau said. “We did a better job this time around of working through our switching.”
Barisic thrived — he was 7-of-12 from the field — but so did forward Tamell Pearson, who had 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting.
“We were able to get the ball inside, get good post looks,” Boudreau said. “Out the gate, we established the post, got the ball inside on the first possession, got the score. No disrespect to St. Thomas, but we’ve got a huge size advantage, and we’ve got to take advantage of that.
“In this era, you get caught up in 3-point shooting, spacing the floor, and we do that too. But when you’re bigger and physically stronger, you have to take advantage of that. And we did this time around.”
“I was the biggest guy on the court,” Barisic said. “Sometimes it’s a good thing.”
Western Illinois led 45-26 at halftime, the last five points of the half coming from Barisic, who had a 3-pointer with 57 seconds to go, and then a shot inside with eight seconds left.
The Leathernecks kept it going in the second half, leading by as much as 34 points.
“We started good,” Barisic said. “But we talked about it at halftime. Coach (Rob Jeter) said this game wasn’t over.”
All five Western Illinois starters scored in double figures. Trenton Massner led the Leathernecks with 20 points. Will Carius and Colton Sandage each had 12.
Carius showed signs of breaking out of his recent shooting woes. He was just 6-of-32 from the field in the last three games, 2-of-21 in the last two. He had made just 2-of-18 3-point attempts in those three games.
Carius was 4-of-10 from the field, 2-of-8 in 3-pointers.
“Will is his own worst critic,” Boudreau said. “He gets into a funk, and he’s been in a funk. And he seemed in a better space after the game.
“He’s got to get easy baskets. We need him to do everything.”
Photo: Western Illinois coach Rob Jeter (center) and associate head coach Chad Boudreau (right) talk to Tamell Pearson (2), Trenton Massner (5), Will Carius (25) and Colton Sandage during a replay review in Saturday’s game.