Western Illinois’ historic run in The Summit League Men’s Basketball Tournament ended tonight with a heartbreaking 76-73 setback against North Dakota State in the semifinal round.
The Leathernecks held the ball in the final 19.6 seconds and were able to rattle off a pair of 3-pointers – both hitting the frontend of the rim.
Western became the first No. 8 seed in Summit League men’s championship history to upset the top seed when it defeated the three-time reigning champions South Dakota State, 79-76.
Kobe Webster finished the game with a game-high 24 points while Brandon Gilbeck added a double-double on 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Ben Pyle wrapped the Leathernecks’ double-digit scoring on 14 points, also contributing seven rebounds.
The Leathernecks controlled the opening tip, and Webster fed Gilbeck under the basket for first points of the game.
A battle ensued, with both sides pretty evenly matched, for a pair of ties and three lead changes before the first media timeout (15:07).
The Bison used the 3-ball to gain separation, a perfect 6-for-6 effort to start the game, and popped back-to-back to take their first double-digit edge at 25-15 with 11:38 on the clock.
Webster flexed a little range to pull Western within six in the final minute before the half, but an NDSU buzzer-beating trey sent his team into the locker room trailing, 49-40.
There was a momentum shift heading into the second half, and it greatly favored the Purple and Gold.
An 8-0 run closed Western’s deficit to 57-54 with 15:53 left, and it became a one-point game less than two minutes later when Gilbeck powered his way to the rim for a lay-in.
He set the score at 59-58, and Isaac Johnson tied it at the line, 62-all (10:55).
In similar fashion to the game’s start, back-and-forth scoring saw C.J. Duff push Western ahead, 67-65, on a corner 3-pointer, but it was short lived on the next possession when the Bison
recorded a trey of their own. It seemed as if NDSU had an answer to every Leatherneck rally.
When Webster hit an unconventional baseline jumper, the Bison responded with a 3-pointer at the top of the key, and the score remained 76-71 for the next three minutes.
Webster broke the drought with a driving layup at the 1-minute mark as his team called a timeout with possession of the ball in the final seconds.
The Leathernecks close out the 2018-19 season with a (10-21) overall slate.
Leathernecks fall in their first trip to the Summit League semifinals since the 2012-13 season.