MACOMB – It was a record-setting night for Western Illinois senior guard Trenton Massner, who put his name at the top of Leatherneck record book, scoring a program-record 46 points in a 92-80 WIU victory over North Dakota on Monday night.
Massner was on fire, hitting 16-21 of his shots, including making a program-record nine three-pointers (9-12) on an evening where everything was going in the basket.
“I don’t know how to explain it, I was due for it, I haven’t been making a shot all year, it’s like if I was making my shot all year, I’d have four or five of those,” Massner said. “My teammates got me the ball, that’s what I appreciate about the guys, they know I had it going on, they gave me the ball and I would do the same for Alec, Jesiah and Q, that’s what’s so good about this team, we all care about each other’s personal well-being but also the team because we know if we do well as an individual we’ll do well as a team. And the coaches, they let me do my thing, whether I go 1-12 or 9-12.”
Massner was able to get red-hot in the second half, exploding for 33 points after the break, helping WIU (12-8, 5-4) overcome a five-point halftime deficit. In the second half, Massner went 11-14 from the field and 7-9 from three. The win also moved the Leathernecks into third place in the Summit League at 5-4 in conference play.
“We were down five at the half, same as the last game, but I knew, there are certain games we’re going to be good, we have to settle down and relax, be better on defense,” Massner said. “I wasn’t going to let us lose that game because 4-5 is so much worse than 5-4 especially with the South Dakota schools coming to town. Good teams don’t let the bottom teams in the league beat them at home, so it was big to get that win. Momentum is key, getting a win and getting back on track offensively was the perfect storm.”
And while the night belonged to Massner, he had plenty of help. Quinlan Bennett recorded a double-double, scoring 10 points and grabbing a career-high 13 rebounds. Vuk Stevanic added 12 points, eight rebounds and six assists while Jesiah West scored 11 and Alec Rosner had nine.
Things did not start off great for Western Illinois though as turnovers and a hot-shooting Fighting Hawk team took a lead as big as seven in the first half.
But some adjustments at half, including switching the defense to a zone look, threw UND off-kilter long enough to allow Massner to heat up and the Leathernecks to rally
“The scary part with them, they can all shoot, they’re timing and rhythm was so good so we needed to do something to throw them off,” WIU coach Rob Jeter said. “I told the guys, we have to cover the three, we have to talk, so it turned into a matchup, but really, it was trying to get them to do something different and throw off their rhythm. They tried the same thing with us, ours worked and theirs backfired, but that’s basketball, you try to find something to get your opponent off-balance.”
Despite the hot start to the second half, Western Illinois only led by four with eight minutes to play. Once again, WIU found another gear to separate from UND.
“The craziest thing, at the eight-minute mark, we’re shooting in the high 70s for the half and we’re only up four,” Jeter said. “It’s the way they play, they’re loose, they’re having fun, their five man can step out and shoot or dribble by you, they’re difficult to guard, I thought we did a nice job keeping ourselves with them and just ahead so when that last spurt happened, we created that separation because you can’t let that team get a lead with six minutes to go.”
Massner was key during the stretch, as he was all game, knocking down shot after shot, eventually scoring the sixth-most points in Summit League history.
“I had no idea how many points he had, I was too locked in on our defense and trying to keep those guys in front of us, it’s good to see guys having fun, smiling and when that happens, it was hopefully he can make those two free throws, so he can get that record, get that ovation and get that curtain-call because he deserves it,” Jeter said. “He’s taken on so much responsibility and he’s really embracing it. Last year, he kind of deferred but this year he’s embraced the responsibility.”
Massner officially tied the record and put the dagger in the Fighting Hawks, hitting a step-back three with just over a minute to play.
“That’s my shot, going to my left and step back,” Massner said. “I had had in my mind the whole time, Boudy (Coach Chad Boudreau) said I needed three for the record, it was like ‘OK, I can get my shot whenever I want, I’ll dribble to the left wing.’ I knew I could get to my step-back and get it off, and I was hot, so it went in. Then it was like ‘OK, somebody’s helping me out.’ “
The Leathernecks try to extend their winning streak to four on Thursday when they begin the second half of the Summit League schedule against South Dakota. The Coyotes defeated WIU earlier this season in Vermillion.
“It’s what we could not do last year, the first year we’re building a program, COVID, it was let’s try to get something going, then we carried it over to the beginning of the second year, then we got rocked a little bit in the league,” Jeter said. “This year, we’re putting them together, it’s a sign we’re growing as a program.”
***Story and photo courtesy of WIU Athletics***