Leathernecks Battle For First Place This Week


Western Illinois begins a crucial four-game homestand to close out regular season play in the Ohio Valley Conference on Thursday night. First up for the Leathernecks is a showdown with league-leading Morehead State. The game tips at 7:30 p.m.

Western Illinois follows that with another big game on Saturday, hosting Southern Indiana at 3:30 p.m. If the Leathernecks manage to win out, they clinch a share of the OVC title. The Leathernecks have not won a regular season title since the 2012-13 season, when they shared the crown with South Dakota State.

WHO | Morehead State (20-8, 11-4) at Western Illinois (17-10, 10-4); Southern Indiana (8-20, 5-10) at Western Illinois

WHEN | vs Morehead State: Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; vs. Southern Indiana: Saturday at 3:30 p.m.

WHERE | Western Hall, Macomb, Illinois

SOCIAL MEDIA | InstagramTwitterFacebook

FOLLOW ALONG | vs. Morehead State: WatchListenLive Stats; vs. Southern Indiana: WatchListenLive Stats

LAST TIME OUT | Western Illinois went on the road and took a pair of games, winning 62-55 at Tennessee Tech last Thursday and 68-61 at Tennessee State on Saturday. Ryan Myers led the way, averaging 16.5 points in the two games. Jesiah West matched a season-high, scoring 19 vs. Tennessee Tech. Against Tennessee State, Drew Cisse added 14 points. JJ Kalakon scored 11.

ABOUT THE LEATHERNECKS | Western Illinois comes in at 17-10 overall, and 10-4 in the OVC. In 14 league games, WIU has the best OVC defense, allowing 62.1 points per game. Opponents are shooting 41.5 percent vs. WIU in conference games. Western Illinois is second in the league in rebounds per game (39.6) and opponent rebounds per game (30.0). The Leathernecks are tops in rebound margin (+9) and offensive rebounds 14.5). Ryan Myers leads the Leathernecks in scoring, averaging 13.7 points in OVC games. Cisse is the top rebounder in the league, grabbing 10.4 boards. 

ABOUT THE EAGLES | Morehead State has struggled lately, losing three in a row. The Eagles are coming off a home loss on Tuesday to Southern Indiana. Despite the recent struggles, MSU is still atop the OVC standings, a half-game ahead of Western Illinois, Little Rock, and UT Martin. Riley Minnix leads the way, scoring 23,1 points per contest, tops in the OVC.

ABOUT THE SCREAMING EAGLES | Southern Indiana picked up its biggest win of the season, beating OVC leader Morehead State on Tuesday in Morehead. The win snapped a three-game road losing streak. The win also kept USI’s OVC Tournament hopes alive, moving the team into eighth place in the conference. The top eight teams qualify for the conference tournament in Evansville, Indiana. Jeremiah Hernandez leads the Screaming Eagles, scoring 20.9 points per game, second in the OVC.

KEYS TO THE GAME VS. MOREHEAD STATE | Hoop at home: The Leathernecks have the best OVC road record at 8-1, but have struggled at home, going 2-3 inside Western Hall in league games. Morehead State is 5-3 in OVC road games.

Struggle to score: These are two of the top defenses in the league, so points may be at a premium on Thursday. In conference games, Western Illinois allows 62.1 per contest, tops in the OVC. Morehead State is right behind the Leathernecks, allowing 62.8.

Stop the scorers: WIU’s defense will be challenged by two of the top scorers in the league. Riley Minnix scores 23.1 points per conference game, tops in the league. Jordan Lathon adds 17.9, seventh most. In the previous meeting, Minnix and Lathon combined to score 31 of MSU’s 64 points on 13-24 shooting.

KEYS TO THE GAME VS. SOUTHERN INDIANA | Keep ’em off the line: In the first meeting, USI shot 27 free throws. Jeremiah Hernandez went 12-14 from the charity stripe, scoring a game-high 26 points. In 14 games, Hernandez has shot 127 free throws (33 more than the next player) and attempted 151 (36 more than the next player). As a team, Southern Indiana leads the league in free throws made (297) and attempted (382). 

Take care of the ball: In the first meeting, Western Illinois had 14 turnovers and USI had 13. The two teams each scored 15 points off miscues.

Hold serve at home: Again, winning at home is a must if Western Illinois wants to win at least a share of the league title. Southern Indiana is 2-13 on the road this season, with both wins coming in league play. The Screaming Eagles are 3-5 on the road in the OVC, snapping a three-game road losing streak on Tuesday with the win at MSU. 

HISTORY | WIU is 5-4 all-time vs. Morehead State. The Eagles won the first match between the two this season, 64-50 at Morehead. Western Illinois is 4-1 all-time vs. Southern Indiana. The Leathernecks topped the Screaming Eagles in Evansville, Indiana 73-68 on January 25. Ryan Myers scored 23 points while James Dent Jr. scored 14 and Drew Cisse chipped in with 12 points and eight rebounds. 

WHERE THEY RANK NATIONALLY | As a team: The Leathernecks are eighth in the country in block shots per game, averaging 5.8. The 156 total blocks are tied for fourth. The Leathernecks are 27th in the country in field-goal percentage defense, holding opponents to 40.469 percent. The Leathernecks are eighth in rebound margin, holding a +9 advantage. WIU is 37th in defensive rebounds per game (27.7), seventh in offensive rebounds per game (14.4), and fifth in rebounds per game (42.1). The Leathernecks are 19th in scoring defense, allowing 64.5 ppg. And tied for 11th in three-point percentage defense (29.0_

Individuals: Coming into the week, Drew Cisse is fifth in the NCAA, averaging 11.3 rebounds per game. His 4.37 offensive rebounds per game are third in the nation while his 6.89 are 27th. Ryan Myers is seventh in the country in three-point percentage, making 43.87 percent of his treys.

NEWS AND NOTES | Western Illinois is 10-6 on the road this season, the 10 road wins are tied for the most in NCAA Division I men’s basketball with UMass Lowell. The ten road wins are the most for the program since the 1957-58 season when the squad won 11. That team finished second in the NAIA Tournament. WIU has not allowed more than 71 points since Nov. 24 (at Illinois), a stretch of 21 games. The Leathernecks are 15-6 in those contests. WIU’s ten conference wins are the most for the program since 2012-13 when the team went 13-3 in the Summit League. The 17 overall wins are the most victories since 2012-13 when the team went 22-9.

WHAT’S NEXT | Western Illinois closes the regular season at home next week. The Leathernecks host Eastern Illinois on Feb. 29 and SIU-E on March 2.

***Courtesy of Western Illinois University***

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