Western Illinois shocks SDSU in Summit League Tournament

Andrew Holtan, Sports Writer

This was the third straight season the Western Illinois men’s basketball team was the No. 8 seed in the Summit League Tournament. WIU fell short the first two times, but this season the team pulled off the biggest upset in Summit League Tournament history at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center in Sioux falls, defeating No. 1 South Dakota State 79-76.

This was the first time in Summit League history that a No. 1 seed lost to a No. 8 seed and it was the first time in since 2015 that SDSU had lost in the Summit League Tournament.

“To be blunt, it sucks,” said senior forward Mike Daum, who had won the Summit League Tournament every single season during his time at SDSU. “It really sucks. But for us, we’re going to get a bid to the NIT so we’re still going to play games in the postseason…We know we have games coming up, the sun’s going to come back up tomorrow. It’s really no time to get down on ourselves. Of course tonight we’re going to sulk and be in our feelings, but we’re always in our feelings after a loss. We just have to realize that we still have games left with this core group of guys and keep getting closer as a team.”

Head coach T.J. Otzelberger noted that most of the blame for this loss should come on the Jacks play in the first half where they got outscored 38-28 and shot 37.9 percent from the field and 22.2 percent from three.

“Everyone is talking about the the second half, but the first half was the half where we didn’t play very well. If we would’ve the second half over again we would’ve been great shape. We had great rhythm and pace [in the second half],” Otzelber said.

SDSU (24-7,14-2) cut the Western Illinois (9-20, 4-14) lead to single digits multiple times in the second half, but the Leathernecks answered almost every single time. Until with under a minute to play when the Jacks cut it to four and sophomore guard David Jenkins Jr. hit a three to cut the lead to one with 11.5 seconds left.

SDSU would then send Western Illinois’ Keshon Montague to the free throw line. Montague had not played all game and had not attempted a free throw all season, but he knocked down both of his free throws ease. Jenkins, who finished with 29 points, had a good look at three to tie at the buzzer, but it rimmed out.

“Credit to him for getting open on the inbounds and stepping and knocking down free throws key free throws,” said Leathernecks head coach Billy Wright.

Western Illinois was lead by freshman Ben Pyle and sophomore Isaac Johnson who each had 17 points. Sophomore Kobe Webster and freshman Zion Young also had 13 points apiece.

This was arguably the biggest win in Western Illinois men’s basketball history. They had only beaten SDSU four times ever heading into the game and had never won a game at Denny Sanford PREMIER Center.

The crowd was 99 percent Jackrabbit blue tonight, with the 1 percent being the Western Illinois band, and all of them went home in shock. Otzelberger said his players have the most respect for their fans, so it’s definitely a tough loss.

“We talked about it as a group, [the fans] deserve better,” Otzeberger said. “We expect more as a program. I don’t think anybody is happy about the result. Our guys, and I can tell you for sure that Mike Daum, Tevin King and Skyler Flatten are Jackrabbits through and through and always will be.”