First-year Western Illinois men’s basketball coach Rob Jeter said his team’s hunger finally paid off.
The Leathernecks won their first Summit League game of the season Saturday night, displaying a better sense of urgency than UND in taking a physical, foul-plagued 99-87 win over the Fighting Hawks at The Betty -- a victory that will make Western Illinois’ 11-hour bus ride back to Macomb a lot more enjoyable.
“We’ve figured out every way not to win games,” said Jeter. “We’ve also figured out ways to stay in games. But what we hadn’t figured out yet was how to win one. Tonight, we figured that out.
“I feel really good about where we’re headed. I’m so happy because these guys have given their effort; it just hadn’t paid off.”
UND dropped to 4-6 in the Summit and 5-14 overall and was looking for a weekend sweep, especially after rallying from a 19-point deficit Friday night in taking an 83-81 win over the Leathernecks.
“Plain and simple, we didn’t have an answer,” said UND coach Paul Sather. “They played with a lot of purpose and played like a team that was just starving to get a league win. I thought they played that way last night, with more purpose and urgency. And they did that again tonight. And if we look at the film and chart the hustle plays, I think we’re going to find out we didn’t win a lot of those plays.”
Western Illinois gained control in the final nine minutes. UND’s last lead came on an Ethan Igbanugo 3-pointer with 10:20 left for a 76-75 advantage. The Leathernecks regained the lead on two Tamell Pearson free throws with 9:42 left. Then, 6-foot-7 Division III grad transfer Will Carius connected on a deep 3-pointer from the corner with an 8:49 to go.
UND played catch up the rest of the way. The Leathernecks gained more momentum on three-straight inside baskets from Cameron Burrell and hit free throws down the stretch to earn their first Summit win.
Point guard Colton Sandage led Western Illinois with 28 points as he went 12-for-16 at the line, many coming down the stretch. Carius added 19 after scoring 34 on Friday night.
“Offensively, we were fine,” added Sather. “It’s just that we couldn’t get stops.”
Western Illinois had trouble stopping Filip Rebraca, who led UND with 24 points, muscling his way down low against some physical play from the Leathernecks.
Early in the game, Rebraca topped the 1,000-point mark for his career -- the 39th player in UND history to do so.
UND acknowledged Western Illinois’ sense of urgency, especially in the final nine minutes.
“I don’t think it was just the last nine minutes,” said Rebraca. “At times, we weren’t focused on what we were supposed to do. I feel like we need to do better on our homework, understanding what player wants to do what and what coaches want out of us.
“Basketball is a hard game but that’s why we’re Division I athletes. We have to carry out what our coaches want from us.”
Western Illinois (1-7, 3-12) shot 59 percent (9-of-18 on 3-point attempts) and outrebounded the Hawks 37-25.
“We just didn’t have enough,” said Sather. “It will be good film to watch and learn from.”