By JOHN BOHNENKAMP
MACOMB, Ill. — The last one, the 16th field goal of Trenton Massner’s record-setting night, was his favorite.
Going to his left, the step-back 3-pointer. Two North Dakota defenders were racing at him, but it didn’t matter.
Not on this night.
Not ever, Massner said.
“That’s my shot,” the Western Illinois senior guard said.
North Dakota forward B.J. Omot, at 6-foot-8, was coming straight at him. Guard Elijah Brooks, at 6-4, was attacking from Massner’s right.
Omot was just a moment too late. So was Brooks.
And when the basketball snapped the net, Brooks snapped his head back in frustration.
It was a night Massner has never had, a night the Leathernecks needed and savored.
Massner finished with a program-record 46 points in Western Illinois’ 92-80 win on Monday night at Western Hall.
“I never even had a night like this in high school,” Massner said, “so I don’t know how to explain it.”
Massner’s final box-score line was 16-of-21 from the field, 9-of-12 in 3-pointers, 5-of-5 in free throws. Massner tied Marcus Tsohonis of Long Beach State for the most points scored in an NCAA Division I game this season.
“It’s really good to experience that,” said Western Illinois guard Quinlan Bennett, who had 10 points and 13 rebounds and didn’t mind being a spectator to the Massner show. “When Trenton gets going, everybody gets going.”
Western Illinois (12-8 overall, 5-4 Summit League) was closing out the Fighting Hawks (7-15, 1-8) when word was passed to the Leatherneck bench that Massner, who had 41 points at the time, was closing in on the previous record of 44 points set by Dan Braun in 1970. Associate head coach Chad Boudreau told Massner what he needed to get.
“(Massner) was talking to me, saying, ‘I’m going for the record,’” Bennett said, laughing. “I’m like, ‘Go ahead, do your thing, man.’”
Massner knew the shot he wanted as he dribbled near center court with the Leathernecks up 86-76 with a little more than a minute to play.
“I had it in my mind the whole time,” Massner said. “Boudy told me I needed three to (tie) the record. I knew I could get my shot off whenever I wanted, so I dribbled to my left. I knew I could get to my step-back, and luckily I was hot. And it went in.
“When that went in, I knew somebody was with me, helping me out.”
Massner had 33 points in the second half, the last two coming on free throws with 53 seconds. Jeter subbed in J.J. Kalakon at that point, so Massner could get a final ovation.
“He really works hard,” Jeter said of Massner. “He’s taken a lot of responsibility. And what he’s done in this second part of the season is he’s really embracing it. Early last year, he would kind of defer. But he’s embraced his responsibility as a leader. You can see him really maturing and growing.”
“My teammates got me the ball,” Massner said. “That’s what I appreciate about these guys — they knew I had it going on. They got me the ball, and I would do the same for Alec (Rosner) or Jesiah (West) or (Bennett). That’s what’s so good about this team — we care about each other’s personal well-being as well as the team. We know if we do well individually, we’ll do well as a team.
“I think that was fun.”
Western Illinois moved into a tie for third place at the halfway point of the conference season after coming back from being down 41-36 at halftime. The Leathernecks opened the second half on a 10-3 run, using a 2-3 zone that slowed the Fighting Hawks.
“There’s certain games when I know we’re going to be good, and this was one of them,” Massner said. “I said, ‘Guys, we’re going to be fine. Just relax.’ But we had to be better on defense.”
“It was key to come out the second half and close the gap,” Jeter said. “We couldn’t let that team get something like a 12-point lead with six minutes to go. I don’t know how you overcome that.
“The scary part with them is they can all shoot. Their timing and their rhythm was so good, so let’s do something to throw them off. It was mainly to get them to do something different to throw off their rhythm.”
With the score tied at 60, the Leathernecks went on a 16-3 run to take control of the game with five minutes to play. The run was started with a Massner 3-pointer.
“I wasn’t going to let us lose that game,” Massner said.
Massner grew up in Wapello, Iowa, 75 miles from Western Illinois’ campus. Ken Spielbauer, who was Massner’s coach at Wapello High School, made it over to the game to see his former player for the first time this season.
“He took so much time out of his own life to help me, and I really appreciate that,” Massner said.
It was quite the show. The win, Massner said, was the best part.
But he knew what the record meant.
“I’m proud to be a Leatherneck,” Massner said. “I can say that. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I’m so happy to be here. So I don’t care if this isn’t the biggest school or the best school. Forty-six is 46, no matter where you’re at.”
Photo: Western Illinois coach Rob Jeter talks to his team before starting the second half of Monday’s game against North Dakota.