MBB: SDSU holds off Western Illinois for eighth league win

Victoria Berndt, Sports Reporter

MACOMB, Ill. — Behind a strong first half, the South Dakota State men’s basketball team took down Western Illinois 71-61 Saturday night at Western Hall to retain the top spot in the Summit League.

The first eight minutes of the contest featured a back-and-forth battle between until the Jackrabbits (17-8, 8-2 Summit) worked their usual inside-out approach to build a 42-24 halftime lead over the Fighting Leathernecks (5-15, 2-8 Summit).

WIU started the game double-teaming junior Douglas Wilson. He struggled to defeat the double team early in the game but was able to scrape together nine points in the first half.

Leathernecks’ head coach Billy Wright pointed out his team had a few hiccups in its defense but said that in the second half they just need to set the defense and make the shots during a halftime television interview.

In the second half, WIU made a furious comeback attempt, outscoring SDSU 37-29 and cutting the lead to as few as a single point with three minutes remaining, but couldn’t make the final push necessary to knock off the league-leading Jacks.

“We certainly weren’t very good in the second half, we got stagnant,” SDSU head coach Eric Henderson said in a postgame radio interview. “… We didn’t have that sense of urgency that we needed to in the second half.

With 16 turnovers in the second half, saying the Jacks struggled protecting the ball would be an understatement.

Alex Arians was a key playmaker for the Jackrabbits early in the game — he ended the game with 14 points and six rebounds. Joining Arians in double figures, freshman Noah Freidel added 11 points and five rebounds. Wilson ended the game with 18 points and five rebounds.

The Leathernecks were led by the sophomore guard Zion Young with 16 points.

SDSU returns to Brookings for a three-game homestand starting with the second game of a doubleheader Feb. 8. The SDSU women tip off at 2 p.m. with the men’s game to follow.