By JOHN BOHNENKAMP
MACOMB, Ill. — The final home weekend for the Western Illinois men’s basketball team started with missing the energy that took over Western Hall a couple of weeks ago.
Now the Leathernecks hope they can get that back heading into one of their biggest games of the year.
Western Illinois was sluggish in a 76-64 loss to Kansas City on Thursday night.
And that’s something that can’t happen when Summit League leader Oral Roberts comes in on Saturday.
The Leathernecks (15-10 overall, 8-6 Summit League) stayed in third place in the conference standings, a half-game ahead of Kansas City (11-15, 7-6).
But what bothered Western Illinois coach Rob Jeter was how the Leathernecks played.
Kansas City shot 56.9 percent for the game, 64.3 percent in the second half. The Roos outrebounded the Leathernecks 37-20, including nine offensive rebounds.
Kansas City guard Shemarri Allen had 26 points, 21 in the second half. RayQwandis Mitchell had 16, and Babacar Diallo had 15.
“They’re not a difficult team to scout, but they’re a difficult team to defend, because it comes down to one-on-one guard play and rebounding, and we failed miserably on those two,” Jeter said. “Their guard play was phenomenal.”
“They got every loose ball,” forward Vuk Stevanic said. “They outrebounded us. On one-on-ones, they killed us. Crushed us from the backcourt positions.”
Western Illinois led 30-29 at halftime, but Allen took over in the second half. He had eight points in a 13-2 run that put the Roos up 65-50 with five minutes to play.
“The guy got going, and we let him get comfortable,” Stevanic said.
“It just seemed a lot of times, our guards were on islands,” Western Illinois guard Trenton Massner said. “Any time you get a great guard, and you’re going one-on-one with him, it’s almost impossible to stay in front of him.”
The Leathernecks gave up 13 second-chance points, which also hurt.
“It was just disappointing to get killed on the rebounds like we did,” Jeter said. “And then when guards get going like they did tonight, they’re hard to handle.”
“We weren’t hardly getting stops,” Massner said. “And it seemed like every time we did get a stop, we’d give up an offensive rebound. You can’t give good teams two or three chances to score, because they will score.”
Western Illinois shot just 44 percent for the game, 33.3 percent in 3-pointers. Massner led the Leathernecks with 15 points, while Stevanic had 14. Quinlan Bennett and K.J. Lee had 10.
There was a different feeling inside Western Hall, nothing like what it was a couple of weeks ago, when the Leathernecks swept three games to move up the conference standings.
Now the Leathernecks get Oral Roberts (22-4, 13-0), which has won nine consecutive games and has a four-game lead over second-place South Dakota State.
“We’ve got to rebound, and we’ve got to defend,” Jeter said. “We’re playing one of the best guards in the league (Max Abmas, who averages 22.5 points per game). He likes to go one-on-one, they all go one-on-one, so this is a good game to prepare for that. It’s going to be one-on-one to the basket. Can we defend one-on-one and make them take tough shots instead of giving them free throws and layups. We were one of the best 3-point defending teams in the league, and we failed miserably at that tonight. You can’t win if you do that.”
“We have to slow them down a little bit and match their scoring,” Massner said. “I think we can score with Oral Roberts, we just have to get some positive energy going for the weekend.”
Photo: WIU’s Alec Rosner talks to Quinlan Bennett before Bennett shoots second-half free throws in Thursday’s game against Kansas City.