FARGO, N.D. – The Western Illinois University Fighting Leatherneck men's basketball team played on Saturday (Jan. 15), defeating the North Dakota State Bison in a 90-79 overtime thriller in Fargo, N.D. With the victory, Western Illinois moves to 12-6 on the season and is back up to .500 in conference play.
"In order to do the extraordinary, you have to do the ordinary things, and I thought the big stops, the big rebounds, sharing the ball and the fact that Luka still had the confidence to shoot, those things were huge for us," head coach Rob Jeter said. "I thought the physicality of this game we could match defensively, but it was going to be a matter of whether or not we could return and be more physical on the offensive end and not just rely on the threes but get to the rim with post touches or drives. I thought we did a phenomenal job."
Both teams traded buckets early, but the Leathernecks took control of the game after the first media timeout, going on a 17-6 run to take a commanding 23-12 lead with 8:46 remaining in the half. The team's offense would continue its roll as the period continue and, fueled by 28 points in the paint and a combined 29 points from Trenton Massner and Luka Barisic, held a 48-34 advantage at the break. North Dakota State didn't go easily, using the second period of play to tie the ballgame and send it to overtime. In overtime, however, the Leathernecks took complete control and went on a 13-0 run in the opening 4:49 of the extra period, with a last-second NDSU bucket cutting the lead to 11 as Western Illinois left Fargo as 90-79 victors.
Trenton Massner led all scorers by tying a career-best mark with 31 points on 14-25 shooting, grabbing 11 rebounds and finishing the game with three steals. Luka Barisic rebounded in a big way from his recent struggles from the field, exploding for 28 points on 3-6 shooting from deep and grabbing eight rebounds. Tamell Pearson scored 12 and grabbed seven boards in his return to the lineup, and Will Carius chipped in 11. Colton Sandage finished with a career-high five steals while George Dixon grabbed six rebounds off the bench.
"We were never playing from a deficit and I thought that helped our psyche… our guys remained poised which was good to see," Jeter said. "Luka's play was the difference in this game. Trenton had a heck of a game getting downhill, but we needed a little something extra and that was Luka hitting shots from behind the arc."
Western was dominant down low, scoring 50 points in the paint and winning the rebound battle 40-37 (8-6 offensive), scoring four second-chance points and making seven shots from deep. The team made 9-12 from the charity stripe, while the defense stepped up in a big way by forcing 14 turnovers while finishing with nine steals and limiting the Bison to just 32% shooting from deep.
The Leathernecks will next play Macomb, hosting the South Dakota Schools next week with South Dakota scheduled to visit Western Hall on Thursday (Jan. 20) and South Dakota State on Saturday (Jan. 22). Tip-offs are scheduled for 6 p.m. and 2 p.m., respectively.
This article originally appeared on The McDonough County Voice: Western beat Bison in Fargo