SAVANNAH, Ga. – The Fighting Leatherneck men’s basketball team dropped their nonconference road tilt at Savannah State Saturday (Nov. 24), 39-38, after a hard fought come-from-behind effort fell short.
After trailing 20-4 early in the first half, Western (3-3) battled back to make it a one-point game with 10 seconds to play in regulation, but senior Don McAvoy III’s last-second shot was partially blocked and fell short as the final buzzer sounded.
The Tigers improved to 4-3 on the year after the victory.
Junior newcomer Adam Link was the only Leatherneck to finish with more than 10 points, scoring 11 on 5-of-8 shooting. Link also had a game-high four steals and grabbed four rebounds.
Ceola Clark III, who remains in 18th-place on Western’s all-time scoring list (1,167), finished the game with nine points, an assist, and a rebound.
Leading the team in rebounds Saturday was Terell Parks who finished with seven. Parks also had six points (all in the second half), two blocks, an assist, and a steal.
Western had only nine turnovers in the loss compared to SSU’s 14. Four of the Tigers turnovers were shot clock violations.
Both teams shot under 40% in the game (WIU: 34.8%, SSU: 38.1%). Western shot 23.1% in the first half and 50% in the second, while Savannah State shot 47.6% in the first, and 28.6% in the second.
Both teams also struggled from beyond the arch with Western making only 3-of-15, and SSU knocking down only 2-of-11.
The Leathernecks scored 14 of their points off of turnovers, seven in each half, while the Tigers only scored four points off of turnovers.
Parks kicked-off the game by winning his fifth tip of the season in six games.
SSU opened the game with an 11-0 run and shot 100% (5-of-5) from the field during that time, while the Leathernecks opened 0-of-9 from the field. Link ended Western’s scoring drought seven minutes into the game with a long two from the top of the key.
Midway through the first, Western trailed 17-4. Savannah State was shooting 73% (8-of-11) from the floor, while the Leathernecks had only been able to connect on 15% (2-of-13) of their shots.
The Tigers’ shooting cooled down a bit (53%) throughout the first half, but SSU continued to shoot well from the field, building its lead back up to 14 points, 22-8, with 2:52 left in the half. Savannah State’s Rashad Hassan scored SSU’s last 11 points up to that point, and had a game-high 13 at the time.
A three from Clark, his first points of the game, with roughly a minute left in the first, followed by a tough basket under the hoop from junior Michael Ochereobia, would cap a 4-0 run for the Leathernecks and make it 22-13 to conclude the first half.
After the two teams exchanged baskets early in the second, McAvoy finished a layup, followed by Clark connecting on 1-of-2 free throws attempts, making it a six-point Western Illinois deficit, 24-18.
Savannah State answered with a 5-0 run, extending its lead back to double figures over Western, 29-18, with 11:57 left in the game.
Senior Jack Houpt and freshman Jordan Foster scored their first points of the game shortly after. Houpt hit a three, and Foster knocked down a deep fade away, getting the Leathernecks back within six points.
Western continued to climb back with just over eight minutes to play in regulation, eventually making it a three-point game, 31-28, thanks in part to Parks’ first two field goals of the game.
The two teams continued to battle, back-and-forth for the next five minutes of play. SSU held a 37-33 advantage with 3:03 left in the game.
Clark hit on his second triple of game at the 1:57 mark of the second to make it a one-point game, 37-36. SSU answered, but it was Clark again who would get Western back within one with under a minute to play with a tough floater in the lane.
A late, off-balance jumper from McAvoy that was partially blocked would fall short as time expired and the Leathernecks’ comeback effort fell short, as Savannah State would come out on top, 39-38.
Western begins Summit League play and continues road action next week at South Dakota Thursday (Nov. 29) and at Kansas City Saturday (Dec. 1).