WIU 86, SOUTHERN INDIANA 78: The Ordinary, And The Extraordinary, Help The Leathernecks Hold On

By JOHN BOHNENKAMP

MACOMB, Ill. — Jesiah West saw it while reviewing the video of some of his recent games.

“The last couple of games, I’ve been taking plays off,” the Western Illinois University forward said. “I’ve been seeing it on film. Today, I came in with the mindset to not take any plays off. Just be you.”

Western Illinois coach Rob Jeter said for the Leathernecks to snap their four-game losing streak, it was about making the ordinary plays, with some big plays thrown in.

West provided that late in Wednesday’s 86-78 win over Southern Indiana at Western Hall.

Western Illinois was leading 79-74 with less than two minutes to play when Southern Indiana’s Jelani Simmons broke out after a missed Leatherneck shot and was charging toward Western Illinois guard Trenton Massner, the only player standing between Simmons and the basket. Massner, saddled with four fouls, was going to have to let Simmons go for the layup.

Then West roared in from Massner’s right and swatted Simmons’ shot out of bounds.

“I’m just being me,” said West, who blocked three shots in the game. “That’s what Coach Jeter has been preaching to us — just playing your game, being you. And just play hard.”

“It’s about doing the ordinary well, and that’s what’s eluded us,” Jeter said. “Then, to win games, you have to make extraordinary plays, and that’s what we saw tonight with Jesiah. He can do things that other guys can’t.

“Trenton wasn’t going to foul, he was going to give up the layup. But Jesiah erased about six to eight points off the board tonight with those blocks.”

The Leathernecks (3-4) have done some soul-searching after the recent skid. They met for more than an hour after Saturday’s 88-64 home loss to Youngstown State, determined not to let the season get away so early.

“We took away that we had to stay together for the whole game, and we did that today,” said center Vuk Stevanic. “And I’m proud of that. We just had to bounce back. We needed this win.”

“It was staying together, and playing our way,” West said. “Just being us.”

The Leathernecks led just 36-34 at halftime, but opened the second half with a 19-7 run capped by a West layup off a lob pass. Massner had 11 points during that run.

“We’ve been starting games well, but we haven’t been closing halves well,” Jeter said. “We started the second half well, and actually gave ourselves the cushion we needed to hold them off.”

“We had been coming out lackadaisical the last couple of games,” West said. “This game, we cleaned it up, played together.”

All five Leathernecks scored in double figures, led by Massner, who had a season-high 23 points. Stevanic had 17 despite missing most of the first half with foul trouble. West had 16. Quinlan Bennett and Alec Rosner each had 12.

The Leathernecks also learned to play without key players because of foul issues.

Stevanic had just four first-half points after playing just 2 minutes, 45 seconds, because he picked up two quick fouls.

“I had to settle in, be more disciplined,” Stevanic said.

Massner picked up his fourth foul with 4:22 left in the game and the Leathernecks up 72-68. When he came back two minutes later, the lead was 77-74, soon to grow by two points when Massner fed West inside for a dunk.

Ordinary became the extraordinary.

“The best thing about it was the attitudes of the guys on the court — ‘OK, let’s just take it one possession at a time,’” Jeter said. “It’s those lessons we’re still learning.

“We’ve seen that this season in some of the runs we’ve given up — we’ve self-destructed, we’ve hurt ourselves. If we can stop hurting ourselves, we can settle in and believe what we can do.”

The Leathernecks committed 14 turnovers that Southern Indiana (3-4) turned into 20 points. But they made up for that by going 25-of-33 in free throws.

“It’s a big win,” Stevanic said. “We’ve been close to winning. We could have played better, but we found a way to grind it out.”

“We do some good things, and then a couple of bad turnovers, bad shots, and then all of the sudden, boom-boom-boom,” Jeter said. “If we can eliminate those, we can be a pretty good team.”

Photo: Western Illinois guard Trenton Massner (left) and forward Elijah Farr head down court during Wednesday’s game. (WIU Athletic Communications)

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