MACOMB, Ill. - Western Illinois head coach Jim Molinari picked up his 300th career victory Thursday evening (Jan. 23) inside Western Hall, downing the South Dakota Coyotes by 18 points, 79-61.
"First off, when I first came into coaching, I surrendered my coaching career to the Lord and he has blessed me," said coach Molinari. "Even when I haven't always handled it in a way that would honor Him, He would always put me with great people. Whether it be at DePaul as an assistant, or Minnesota as an assistant, or at Northern Illinois as a head coach, and Bradley as a head coach and now at Western as a head coach. I just praise Him and thank Him for giving me the opportunity to support my family by doing something I love. I love Western and I love our leadership."
Western improves to 8-11 overall on the season and 2-2 in Summit League action after the win, while the Coyotes loss dropped them to 8-10 and 3-1 (USD's first league loss).
The Leathernecks never surrendered their lead in the game, and only allowed USD to tie the game three times, all in the first half.
Western used a 11-0 run midway through the first half, and outscored South Dakota 20-8 to begin the second half, to give WIU a 24-point advantage - its largest lead of the night.
USD was able to cut its deficit to 15 points late, but the Leathernecks would pull away and cruise to Molinari's 300th career victory.
The victory also improves WIU's all-time series record versus USD to 6-2, with the Leathernecks having won six straight.
Freshman guard Garret Covington recorded a game-high 21 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the field, while connecting on 4-of-5 from beyond the arc and 7-of-7 from the free throw line. The Edwardsville, Ill. native also grabbed seven rebounds (ranked second on the team), dished out three assists, and tallied a steal.
Sandifer notched three assists, his 15th game of the season with at least three helpers, and also tallied a couple rebounds and a steal.
Sophomore guard Jordan Foster led all players with four assists.
Mohamed Conde, a junior forward from Belleville, Mich., finished the game with eight points and a season-high nine boards.
Besides committing more turnovers than the Coyotes, Western bettered South Dakota in all other statistical categories.
WIU connected on 62.2% (28-45) of its attempts from the field, 70% from its 3-point shots (7-10), and 88.9% of its free throw attempts (16-18). USD shot 38.5% from the field, 33.3% from the 3-point line, and 78.9% from the charity stripe.
The Leathernecks held the advantage over the Coyotes in rebounds (34-19), assists (19-14), blocks (2-1), and steals (7-5).
USD had three players score 10 or more points in the game. Tyler Flack had 11, while Brandon Bos and Adam Thoseby each finished with 10.
The Coyotes man in the middle Trevor Gruis, who nearly averaged a double-double against WIU last season (14.0 points & 9.0 rebounds), was held to five points and one board in 24 minutes of action.
Western finishes the week at home Saturday when its welcomes Summit League newcomers Denver to Macomb. The contest is will be the first-ever meeting between the two programs and is slated to tip off at 7 p.m.
"We need to have a huge crowd Saturday," continued Molinari. "Denver is a very good team, I don't care what their record is. That's how we won a championship last year, we had good players who wanted to win, but we had good crowds that wouldn't let us lose. The students have done a great job, the town has been tremendous, I'm just hoping we have a great crowd on Saturday. We need to make this place hopping and intimidating. It's a 'White Out' so I might even dress special."