The season is underway, as the Griffons went 1-1 in the Hillyard Tip-Off Classic with a win against the Wayne State Wildcats on Friday and a loss to the Upper Iowa Peacocks on Saturday.
Western went into the opening game against Wayne State without starting point guard Aaron Emmanuel, who injured his knee during practice, but that did not keep the Griffons from claiming a victory in their season opener.
The Wildcats offense had the potential to cause problems for the Griffons, but they were able to contain their opponent according to head coach Brett Weiberg.
“Wayne State runs an offense that, if they can get the right personnel in there, the offense is really hard to guard,” Weiberg said. “I thought, overall, our kids did a pretty good job defending it.”
Within the first six minutes of the first half, Western was behind Wayne State 14-13, but would quickly take a 16-14 lead and avoid playing from behind for the rest of the half. The Wildcats managed to tie the score at 16 all, but a 10-1 run by the Griffons would give them a 26-17 lead. Wayne State did not back down, cutting Western’s lead to only one point by a score of 32-31 with just over two minutes left in the half. The Griffons contained the Wildcats offense and was able to string together an eight-point run to end the half leading 39-31.
Point guard Wes Mitter, who filled in for the injured Emmanuel, lead Western at the half with nine total points, followed by forward Kevin Thomas with seven.
The Griffons gained their biggest lead of the game early in the second half, as they lead the Wildcats by 12 with a score of 43-31. Western continued to hold the lead, until Wayne State tied the game 75-75 with just under a minute and a half left to play. Once again, the Griffons were able to keep the Wildcats offense at bay while going on a six-point run to win the first game of the season 81-75.
Weiberg was proud that the team continued to execute when the score was close.
“When they did cut it [the lead], we had to make plays the last minute and a half, and we made those plays and that’s a positive,” Weiberg said.
Four players scored in double digits for Western. Guard Trey Sampson led the team with 18 points, Mitter scored a career-high 15 points and added six assists, forward Mataika Koyamainavure racked up 13 points and led the Griffons with nine rebounds and guard Cole Clearman added 10 points.
Weiberg knew that Mitter had the potential at a high level.
“Wes played well, and I’m very proud of him, but in no way did it surprise me,” Weiberg said. “The young man had continued to get better and it’s been a pleasure to watch him.”
In the second game of the Classic, Western was able to take a 24-21 lead over Upper Iowa late in the first half. The Peacocks did not allow the Griffons to hold onto the lead as they went on a 10-0 run to claim a 31-24 lead with 4:49 left in the half. Western had difficulty cutting into lead the and holding the Upper Iowa offense, which led to an increase in the Peacock lead to 43-32 with eight seconds left in the half. A last second three-pointer by Clearman cut Upper Iowa’s lead down to eight, but Western went into half time down 43-35.
Clearman led the Griffons at half with 12 total points and forward Currie Byrd was second with eight points.
In the second half, the Peacocks increased their lead over the Griffons to double digits by a score of 58-44. Western cut the lead down to seven points with a 58-51 score, but Upper Iowa put together an 8-0 run, pushing their lead to 15 and the score to 66-51. The Griffons continued to fight, but the Peacocks held onto a double-digit lead until a 10-0 run by Western cut the lead down to four points with a score of 76-72 with a little over three minutes left to go. The Griffons continued to lower the Peacocks lead as they pulled within two with a score of 80-78, but it would not be enough as Upper Iowa went on a 7-0 run to hand Western their first loss 86-78.
Weiberg believes that the outcome of the game was dictated largely off of turnovers.
“For the most part, it was turnover driven,” Weiberg said. “You can’t score if you turn the ball over, and your turnovers are gonna lead to points on the other end.”
Again, the Griffons had four players in double-digit points with Koyamainavure leading the team with 17. Byrd followed him with 15 points, while Sampson scored 14 and Clearman scored 12.
Western continues their home stand against the University of Saint Mary Spires on Saturday, Nov. 14 at 7:30 p.m.