WIU men’s remarkable season comes to end with semifinal loss to Little Rock in OVC Tournament


The Western Illinois University men's basketball team suffered an 82-57 loss to top-seeded Little Rock in Friday night's semifinals of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament in Evansville, Ind. | Photo courtesy Ohio Valley Conference

EVANSVILLE, Ind. — Through the first 12 minutes Friday night, the fourth-seeded Western Illinois University men’s basketball team went toe-to-toe with top-seeded Little Rock in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament semifinals.

The eight minutes that followed is where the Leathernecks lost their edge.

Tied at 21 following Drew Cisse’s layin with 8:20 remaining in the first half at the Ford Center, WIU went cold offensively after that, scoring just seven points the remainder of the half while going 3 of 15 from the field with three turnovers as Little Rock surged to a 40-28 lead.

“During that run, we had some good looks, we just couldn’t get them to fall and that’s the game,” first-year WIU coach Chad Boudreau said. “We had a chance. They went zone because we were scoring, but we stopped, and all season when we’ve had that, we backed it up with stops but tonight we couldn’t.”

The Leathernecks shot 23.5 percent from the field in the second half and suffered a season-ending 82-57 loss.

“The first time we played them, our defense kept us in the game and this time around, we couldn’t get the stops, shots stopped falling and that’s a bad recipe,” said Boudreau, whose team finished with a 21-12 record.

WIU shot 29.9 percent from the field overall and just 22.2 percent from 3-point range (6 of 27). Meanwhile, Little Rock shot 53.1 percent from the field and scored 54 points in the paint. WIU had just 20 points in the paint.

“They had a good game plan coming into the game,” WIU senior forward Jesiah West said. “It wasn’t anything we hadn’t seen before, but they had different wrinkles and they hit us by surprise. It was very well-executed by them.”

JJ Kalakon scored a team-high 15 points. Ryan Myers added 12 points. Cisse and Kalakon each added eight rebounds and two blocks. 

Still, Boudreau’s debut campaign was a bonafide success. The Leathernecks enjoyed their first 20-plus win season since the 2012-13 season. The 21 victories are the most ever for a first-year coach in program history and currently rank Boudreau second nationally among first-year coaches this season. 

“This was a great year, we’re disappointed in the loss, but this is a great year for the group we put together,” WIU senior Quinlan Bennett said. “It was a brotherhood, we all gelled together, that’s why it hurts more, seeing your brothers down, but this was a great year for the school, the community, we just didn’t finish the job.”

The team also won 10 road games, the most for the program since 1957-58. The OVC Tournament quarterfinal victory over Tennessee State was the team’s first postseason victory since the 2018-19 campaign.

“This senior season has been nothing but memorable for me, we did things that haven’t been done by this school in a long time,” West said. “We did things people didn’t expect us to do this year, I don’t live with regrets. I gave it my all this year and now you go on to what’s next.”

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