DENVER – The Western Illinois and Denver men's basketball teams faced high altitudes and even higher stakes in their regular-season finale Saturday (Feb. 29), with both needing the win to clinch the eighth and final spot in the 2020 Summit League Tournament.
The Leathernecks were down by as many as 17 and held a one-point lead in the final minute, but a 69-63 final closed the door on the 2019-20 season.
"I give our kids credit," said head coach Billy Wright. "We did everything but win the game, and ultimately, that's what you play the game to do. We clawed and scrapped, and did some things to put ourselves in position, and it came out a couple of possessions short."
The Leathernecks just couldn't get a shot to fall in the early goings, and while their offense stagnated, the Pioneers strung together an 11-0 run.
Down by as many as 17, time and time again, Western proved no deficit is too large to overcome. Three-pointers closed the gap, with Zion Young tying things at 48-all before providing his team its first lead since the opening minute (53-52). There were four lead changes in the last seven minutes, and Western's final advantage sat at 63-62 with 54 seconds left.
Pyle and Young finished with 14 points, Webster added 12 and Anthony Jones contributed 10.
Despite the season-ending decision, the Leathernecks made history that shouldn't be overlooked, and one milestone moment was achieved inside Hamilton Gymnasium.
C.J. Duff recorded his 112th career start in the contest to tie the program record set by Western's all-time career scorer Joe Dykstra, and in the home finale against Omaha, Kobe Webster dropped 40 points to surpass Dykstra's single-game mark for most points scored.
Both Duff and Webster recorded their 1,000th career point this season to sit 24th and 13th, respectively, on WIU's career list.
Western concluded its season 5-21 overall, 2-14 in Summit League action, and Duff and James Claar (both seniors) appeared in their last collegiate contest.
"[C.J. and James] just showed what it meant to be a Division I student-athlete. They display the core values set by our university, the core values set by our department, and our unconditional all-in approach to basketball. They are great students and great basketball players, and guys that we will remember and celebrate them moving forward in whatever they choose to do."