Defense powers Western Illinois past Coyote men

Once again for the University of South Dakota men's basketball team, it was a case of 'yeah-but.'

Senior USD guard Charlie Westbrook is fouled by a Western Illinois defender during Summit League action Saturday night in the DakotaDome. Westbrook paced the Coyotes with 18 points and eight rebounds in a heartbreaking 47-45 loss to the Leathernecks. (Photo by David Lias)

On the one hand, the Coyotes surrendered only 15 points in the second half of Saturday night's 47-45 Summit League loss to Western Illinois at the DakotaDome.

Yet, the other side of that coin? The offensive struggles returned — in a big way.

Two nights after an 88-point output, USD (7-12, 2-8) mustered a 36 percent shooting performance against the league's top defense.

"It's always not fun losing," said Westbrook, who led the team in scoring (18) and rebounding (8). "I thought we fought hard, really hard, and we battled — just came up short."

That battle was needed from the get-go, as the visiting Leathernecks led by double digits for most of the second half and never trailed in the second half.

Though the Coyotes had a potential game-winning three at the buzzer get blocked, it was the defense that allowed them to even that have that chance.

"You only give up 15 points in a half, you think you can win a basketball game," said USD coach Dave Boots, who lauded his team's defensive effort in the second half as its best all season.

Down by 10 with just under nine minutes left, the Coyotes sliced the lead to 46-43 with 1:30 to play — thanks to seven straight points by Westbrook. A free throw by WIU with 55 seconds left pushed the lead to four.

A Westbrook driving layup with 10 seconds left brought USD within 47-45. The Coyotes got the ball back on a steal and a jump ball call.

Out of a timeout, the ball was swung to Louie Krogman, whose three-pointer at the top of the key was blocked just ahead of the buzzer.

"I'm proud of our guys and the way they played defense," said Krogman, who shouldered much of the blame for the offensive performance after going 5-of-17 for 11 points.

"They trust me to make those shots and I didn't step up tonight. I'm just sorry for that."

Western Illinois (10-8, 5-5), which came in with the league's top scoring defense at 60.6 points a game, certainly made life miserable for the Coyote shooters.

"We played to our identity," WIU coach Jim Molinari said. "We win ugly. Ugly is beautiful to us. Our identity is based on defense, trying to take care of the ball, and rebounding."

Western Illinois was able to maintain a sizable cushion for most of the second half, at one time leading 44-34 with 8:39 to play. Westbrook scored USD's next nine points to pull the Coyotes within 46-43 with 1:31 left.

Obi Emegano — who finished with a game-high 21 points — made one of two free throws with 57.2 seconds remaining. That one miss was par for the course down the stretch, as each team missed plenty of open looks.

Over the final 5:02, the Coyotes missed their last four three-point shots. For the game, USD was 2-of-19 on long-range shots.

"Certainly defensively, we did a really good job," Boots said. "Just again, it always goes back to can we make shots; can we get enough people involved making shots.

"Obviously that was not a good job by us."

The Coyotes next hit the road for the western swing of the Summit League schedule, with games Thursday at Oral Roberts and Saturday at Southern Utah.

Can the team bounce back?

"We've had to bounce back through the whole year; we're not trying to bounce back," Boots said. "We're trying to prepare as well as we can for that next game on our schedule."

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