Between the Western Illinois purple and the blue trim of IPFW, Thursday’s Summit League basketball game at the Gates Center had the color blend of a bad bruise, and it was equally nasty to look at.
The perfect storm of the visiting Leathernecks’ stingy defense – one that holds opponents to an average of 52 points per game – and IPFW’s recurring malady of inconsistent offense came to a head in the final half of a 43-40 Western Illinois victory.
Despite not scoring a point in the final 8 minutes, 37 seconds, Western Illinois had enough of a cushion to withstand its drought and hang on to hand the Mastodons their second consecutive home loss.
The win keeps Western Illinois (16-4, 8-1) atop the Summit League standings, while IPFW (9-13, 2-6) has dropped four of its last five games and needs to win seven of its final nine to finish the regular season over .500.
A strong finish would have been enough to give the Mastodons the upset.
But as Western Illinois went scoreless for more than 8 1/2 minutes – and went without a basket for the final 12:46 – IPFW couldn’t take advantage.
Part of that is the beginning of the game. We were fighting from behind all the time, IPFW coach Tony Jasick said, citing the 15-4 hole his team dug in the game’s first seven minutes.
The other part is we did some things down the stretch that were ill-advised. I spoke at it, I spoke on it a number of times. You can’t beat Western Illinois off the first pass; can’t happen. It won’t happen. You have to beat them off of the second and third drive, the second post touch. When we did that, we were pretty effective. And then late, for whatever reason, we made some plays that were off the first pass, and it’s not going to happen. It’s unfortunate that we weren’t able to realize that and execute the whole game.
While Western Illinois was missing its final 12 shots from the floor, IPFW ever so slowly chipped away at the Leathernecks’ 43-31 lead.
The Mastodons got within 10 at 8:18, got a three-pointer from Luis Jacobo with 5:32 left, made it a 43-38 game on Mario Hines’ rebound bucket with 2:08 remaining, and finally got within the final three-point margin with 1:33 left on Joe Edwards’ shot from close range.
When Western Illinois obliged even more by twice missing the front end of one-and-one free throws, IPFW got the last crack at tying the game, but Jacobo’s three-pointer from the left side missed with 4 seconds left.
It gets frustrating at times, but when we get rolling, it’s pretty good, Hines said of the team’s offense. But when we’re not rolling, somebody is out of sync, people not in the right spot; you shoot a lot of bad shots. It’s something you have to deal with during the season. Hopefully, we’ll fight through it.
Hines, the 6-foot-8 senior center, was the only IPFW player to find his offense in the second half.
Of his team-high 13 points and seven rebounds, 11 of the points and all the rebounds came in the second half.
I thought Mario did a good job, Jasick said. Mario’s talent level and Mario’s potential are, fortunately, it’s all up to Mario. When he’s dialed in and ready to go, he’s a talent. Hopefully, we can use (Thursday night) and really springboard it here for the last 10, 11 games of his career. When he has an impact on the game on both ends, it changes our team.