WIU 113, ROCKFORD 56: Leathernecks Maintain Their Momentum

By JOHN BOHNENKAMP

MACOMB, Ill. — It was never close, and for Western Illinois men’s basketball coach Rob Jeter, that was a good night.

The 113-56 win over Rockford University in Wednesday’s home opener at Western Hall was about the Leathernecks building on what they accomplished in Monday night’s 71-68 win at Illinois State.

Western Illinois (2-0) was never threatened by the Regents, an NCAA Division III team. The Leathernecks scored the first 13 points, led 55-28 at halftime, and then kept adding on to the margin in the second half.

With three road games ahead — at DePaul on Friday, at Central Florida on Monday, and at Texas-Rio Grande Valley on November 21 — it was important to not get caught in a trap.

“It’s pretty big, because we’ve got some big games coming up,” said forward Jesiah West, who scored the game’s first 11 points and finished with 13 points and five rebounds. “Coach, he gets on us about staying locked in, doing what we do best — play defense, and the offense will come. And we did that.”

“I think it was big, because we came off a pretty nice win,” said guard Trenton Massner, who led the Leathernecks with 19 points. “Establishing a level of intensity early was important, because these games can be a trap going into a big game.”

It was the most points scored by the Leathernecks since a 113-62 win over Central Christian College in 2019.

Western Illinois went 11 deep in the game, and everyone played double-digit minutes. Four players off the bench — Elijah Farr, JJ Kalakon, Steph Gabriel and Cody Carlson — played between 19-25 minutes.

“We just seemed to carry over what we had done on Monday,” Jeter said. “Now, getting in some guys who hadn’t played a lot of minutes was critical, and that’s why tonight was a good night.”

Massner, who had a triple-double in Monday’s win, had eight assists in this game. He had four consecutive 3-pointers over a 108-second stretch in the second half.

“I really hadn’t been that aggressive scoring all night,” Massner said. “I was really trying to get everyone else involved. I hit one, hit another. I hadn’t had a stretch like that since I was in high school.”

“Triple-double, first game, and then he follows it up with a game like this,” Jeter said. “He’s sharing the basketball, and he’s having fun, and that’s the key.”

West played 20 minutes in Monday’s win, but had just two points before fouling out.

“I just had to stay locked in,” he said. “I didn’t have a good game against Illinois State. I wanted to get going early.”

Jeter also liked how the Leathernecks handled themselves with a couple of rough incidents. Guard Quinlan Bennett went down hard on a first-half layup, but only a common foul was called after a replay review. West was undercut by Rockford guard Charles Burnell on a lob early in the second half and fell face first to the floor. Burnell was called for a Flagrant 2 foul. Rockford guard Vincent Eugene was called for a technical foul after an exchange of words with Bennett after a foul.

“When some of that extra stuff started to happen, our guys kept their composure, and that’s good to see,” Jeter said.

Bennett and Alec Rosner had 12 points for the Leathernecks. KJ Lee had 11, and Kalakon had 10.

The Leathernecks will get to know each other well in the coming days with the road trips.

“I’m most definitely looking forward to it, building a bond with the guys,” West said. “We’re a pretty close group, as you can see.”

“I think it’s big,” Massner said. “We get a chance to go up against a good level of competition. “It’s fun doing anything with these guys, whether it’s going out to eat or hanging out in the hotel.”

“Back-to-back high-major teams, on the road? Yeah, it’s going to really test us,” Jeter said. “It’s something we need. It’s going to test us. 

“That’s part of the plan. We’re going to be gone for six days, so we’re going to be together. We get a chance to bond a little bit, and have some laughs and have some fun, and compete. It is strategic, to start the year like this. Gives us a chance to bond.”

The Leathernecks will pack their momentum to take along.

“To be 2-0 to start the year, you can’t ask for anything better than that,” Jeter said. “How we played, and how we overcame adversity on that first night. And then tonight, we overcame a whole different adversity — playing with discipline, playing smart, playing the game the right way. I was pretty pleased with how we did that.”

Photo: WIU’s Jesiah West drives to the basket in the first half of Wednesday’s game. (Scott Holland/WIU Athletic Communications)

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