SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - In took every ounce of energy from the Fighting Leathernecks Monday evening (March 5), but when the buzzer sounded, Western Illinois had knocked the top-seeded Oral Roberts Golden Eagles out of The Summit League Tournament, 54-53, advancing to the Summit League Championship game for the first time since 1997.
The fourth-seeded Leathernecks improve to 18-13 overall this season and have now earned four-straight wins. Oral Roberts suffers just its sixth defeat of the year, falling to 27-6 overall.
"We do what we do," said head coach Jim Molinari. "We showed great resiliency and kept making stops. I thought that was a great part of it. Oral Roberts is a great team, a great rebounding team. You can defend the first shot, but it's hard to defend the second shot. They didn't score in the last four minutes and we got a couple of key baskets."
The Leathernecks found themselves down five, 53-48, with four minutes left in the game, but thanks to tough, smart defense and clutch shots, including a game-winning fade-away jumper from junior forward Terell Parks, the Leathernecks came away victorious.
The 18 wins are the most since the 1996-97 season when Western earned 19 wins. The Leathernecks are 1-3 in Summit League title games, with the one victory coming in 1984, and the three losses coming in back-to-back-to-back seasons (1995, 1996, 1997).
Parks led the Leathernecks with 14 points, eight rebounds, four blocks, and two steals on the evening, while senior guard Ceola Clark III, who played all 40 minutes, recorded 11 points and dished out three assists. Fellow senior guard Tommie Tyler finished with a team-high four assists.
The Golden Eagles were led by Dominique Morrison who finished with a game-high 23 points, 15 of which came in the first half.
ORU kicked-off the contest with a 5-0 run, but Clark put an end to the Golden Eagles early advantage by connecting on his first shot of the game, a triple from the top of the key.
Clark's three would spark a 12-0 Leatherneck run to make it 12-5 heading into the first media timeout. The run was highlighted by another three from Clark, along with a triple courtesy of junior forward Jack Houpt.
The Golden Eagles would respond with a small run (6-0) and cut Western lead to one, 12-11 with 12 minutes remaining in the half.
Oral Roberts would pull out to a 24-18 advantage late in the half, but the Leathernecks would score nine unanswered, highlighted by Clark's third triple and a high flying slam dunk from Parks, and take a 27-26 lead into the break.
Tyler knocked down a jumper, followed by Parks finishing a two-handed slam to begin the second-half, extending Western's run to 13-0 and make it 31-26 in favor of Western.
Junior David Gebru entered the game after Parks ran into foul trouble early in the second and produced right away. In Gebru's first four minutes of action he scored five points and grabbed two rebounds, helping to extend the Leathernecks' lead to seven, 36-29.
ORU slowly creeped back into a 41-41 tie with a little over 10 minutes left in the game before Oral Roberts' Morrison scored four straight for the Golden Eagles, making it a 45-41 game in favor of ORU.
With seven minutes left in the game, ORU continued to build on its lead, putting together a 6-2 run and extending its lead to eight points, 51-43. Houpt was able to connect on another three, followed by a Parks completing a put-back, cutting Western's deficit to three points, 51-48 with five minutes to play.
Morrison would knock down two free throws at the 4:03 mark, but freshman forward Obi Emegano would answer for Western on its next possession, making it 53-50 with 3:42 left.
The two teams would go scoreless until the 1:22 mark when Emegano knocked down two free throws to make it 53-52 with under a minute to play.
Western called a timeout with 41.8 left on the clock and the game plan proved to be successful as Parks got the ball down low, turned towards the basket and knocked down the jumper, giving Western the lead, 54-53.
No. 4 Western Illinois (18-13) will square-off against No. 2 South Dakota State tomorrow night in the 2012 Summit League Championship game at 8:05 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN 2 and the winner will punch its ticket to the 2012 NCAA tournament.