By JOHN BOHNENKAMP
MACOMB, Ill. — They came for the Trenton Massner show.
Different script, same magic.
Massner’s 3-pointer with nine-tenths of a second left on the clock lifted Western Illinois to a 75-72 win over South Dakota on Thursday night.
Massner scored 23 points, half the number he put up when he set the new program single-game scoring record in Monday’s 92-80 home win over North Dakota. He made just 9-of-21 shots, including 5-of-14 3-pointers.
It was still a command performance for the senior guard from Wapello, Iowa.
“Everyone came to see what he can do, if he could follow it up with a 50-point night,” Western Illinois coach Rob Jeter said, laughing. “But a 3-point dagger shot to win it is just as nice.”
“I’ve always wanted a moment like that,” Massner said. “I was telling one of my teammates before the season, that’s one of the things I’ve never done — hit a buzzer-going-off game-winner. I’ve hit some go-ahead shots, but nothing like that.”
Western Illinois got two defensive stops in the final 1 minute, 4 seconds, with the game tied. The second came on Mason Archambault’s layup miss with 16 seconds.
Western Illinois forward Jesiah West got the rebound and gave the ball to Massner.
“We were going up the court together, and I said, ‘What do you want to run?’” West said. “He said, ‘It’s game-time.’ I’m like, ‘All right.’”
Jeter passed on taking a timeout, knowing it could give an advantage to the Coyotes (9-12 overall, 4-5 Summit League), who were setting up their defense.
“We go through these situations in practice, so we felt comfortable there,” Jeter said. “Just allow something to happen — we have the ball, we can control it. And I felt comfortable enough to let it go, let it play out. We had enough time to let ourselves get settled.”
“I thought they were on their heels anyway,” Massner said. “Who wants to be guarding on the last possession? It’s the worst thing in basketball, because it always seems the shot goes in, no matter what you do. So when you’re in that position, you don’t want to let them off the hook. And that’s why I just pulled up.”
Massner brought the ball up the center of the court. West told center Vuk Stevanic to get ready to set a screen.
Massner was guarded by Archambault, who kept glancing to his left, where West was positioned.
“I knew when I came up the court I was shooting a three no matter what, whether it was a step-back or whatever,” Massner said. “When I came up court, I saw the guy guarding me look back like he was thinking a screen was going to come, so I thought, ‘Just step back and shoot it.’ It was a better look than I would have gotten coming off a screen.”
The 25-footer was perfect.
“He made the shot,” West said. “A spectacular shot. I love that guy.”
“We just let Trenton do what he can do,” Jeter said. “He is a special player, and he showed what he can do again tonight.”
Jeter thought back to the defensive stops at the end.
“That’s what I want to remember from this game,” he said. “We got a stop, and a score. The most important thing was our guys stepped up at the end.”
A crowd of 937 fans made Western Hall the loudest it has been all season, and the national attention that Massner’s game on Monday received — highlights of it led off ESPN’s 10 p.m. SportsCenter that night — helped make this a must-see game.
Except it wasn’t quite as smooth.
Massner was 16-of-21 from the field, 9-of-12 in 3-pointers, in his 46-point night in Monday’s win, but he wasn’t having the same kind of shooting accuracy in this game. He was just 2-of-9 from the field, 1-of-6 in threes, in the first half, and in the second half hung his head in disbelief when a corner 3-pointer spun inside the rim, then spun back out.
“The first half I couldn’t make anything,” Massner said. “I think that was a little bit of a hangover, if there is such a thing. You have to stay the course.
“I was not worried about that last shot. The game didn’t affect what I was going to do. I thought, ‘I’m going to shoot it, and if it doesn’t go in, we go to overtime. It’s not the end of the world.’”
Every Leatherneck starter scored in double figures — West, Quinlan Bennett and Alec Rosner had 11 points, and Stevanic had 10 — but the nine points off three 3-pointers that Elijah Farr contributed off the bench in the first half were critical as well.
“We tried to get him in the flow,” West said. “That guy, he can actually play. We just need to get him in a rhythm. I’m glad he’s making shots, that’s really big for us.”
“We need a stretch big,” Jeter said of West, who is 6-foot-8. “I like the response to how we’ve been coaching him the last two days — just shoot it. And that’s what he did. We need that type of production from him off the bench.”
The Leathernecks (13-8) won their fourth consecutive game. The last three have come on this four-game homestand that was going to go a long way to determine their positioning in the Summit League traffic jam behind conference leader Oral Roberts.
Now Western Illinois, 6-4 in the Summit League, is only a half-game behind South Dakota State for second place, and the Jackrabbits come to Western Hall on Saturday afternoon.
“We have one more to get,” Jeter said. “And that would be the cherry on top.”
Jeter said he hoped for an even bigger crowd ready to see another show.
But he knew how much he enjoyed this performance.
“Damn,” Jeter said as he left the post-game media session. “That was fun.”
Photo: Western Illinois guard Trenton Massner eyes the defense in the first half of Thursday’s game. (Photo from WIU Athletic Communications)