If a day goes by without Trenton Massner doing something remarkable, has a day really gone by?
The Summit League needs a foil with Oral Roberts increasingly looking like a runaway train. Owners of a 11-0 league record and an elite offense, the Golden Eagles have put themselves in position to do what just one team has before in league history: win the regular season title with an unblemished record.
But a magic week from Massner could have Western Illinois ready to take up that mantle as the Golden Eagles’ chief challenger the rest of the way.
In the span of 116 hours, Massner helped WIU win three games, doing something remarkable in each. Last Monday it was a program record 46 points in a win over North Dakota. On Thursday, it was a buzzer-beating, game-winning 3 against South Dakota and, as the finale, it was a 30-point effort in an overtime win against South Dakota State on Saturday — a game in which WIU trailed by 19.
It was a week to remember in Macomb, where crowds swelled in Western Hall. The comeback win over the Jackrabbits came in front of the biggest crowd of the season, and one that was nearly triple the gate from WIU’s home opener back in November.
“It’s good when it happens at home, for us, this place, this town, this community, this university, it creates energy, momentum, some positive vibes. It’s fun to be part of that,” head coach Rob Jeter said in a release.
The momentum stretches even further back, as the Leathernecks have won five straight games, just the second time they’ve done that in league play in the past 20 years. The streak has shined a light on Massner, a player that may get lost in the shuffle nationally as he shares a league with Max Abmas.
The Wapelo, Iowa, native came to WIU after two seasons at Northwestern State, the latter of which saw him lead the Demons in scoring and land on the all-Southland second team. He did all that playing off the ball, but since he joined Jeter at WIU has had the ball firmly in his hands. The numbers speak for themselves.
Massner (18.7 ppg, 5.3 apg, 5.6 rpg) is the only player in the country averaging at least 18 points, 5.0 assists and 5.0 rebounds a game. In the last five years there have only been 13 other players to post those sort of numbers over the course of an entire season.
(Some of that list: Ja Morant, Ayo Donsumo and Jon Elmore.)
Those numbers now reflect the magic in Macomb over the past week, including that game winner against the Coyotes.
“I’ve always wanted a moment like that, I was telling one of my teammates before the season, that’s one of those things I’ve never done, hit a buzzer-going-off-game-winner,” Massner said in a release. “I’ve hit some go-ahead shots but nothing like that.”
Will that be the start of a legitimate push for either the regular season title or, more realistically, the league tournament title?
The Leathernecks have sole possession of second place, having just beaten four of the teams – SDSU, USD, Kansas City and St. Thomas – nipping at their heels. The season is on track to be another solid step forward for Jeter in his third year at WIU., however is shakes out.
Last season, the Leathernecks (16-16) had their highest win total in nearly a decade, even though they were sputtering toward the end of league play.
“We’ve accomplished some things but there’s so much more and we’re going to keep pushing to get into that next group and try to get to Tuesday night, that’s our goal,” Jeter said after falling to Oral Roberts in the quarterfinals of last year’s league tournament.
The core of that group – including four starters – left the program in the offseason. Massner, however, stayed, giving the Leathernecks a dynamic foundation to build around. Jeter has surrounded him with a bundle of impact players, including sweet-shooting Division-II transfer guard Alec Rosner (14.3 ppg, 39.0% 3FG) and Junior College transfer Jesiah West, who has been among the best defenders and rebounders in the league.
The team’s offensive and defensive numbers are both better than they were in league play a year ago, helping them to their best conference start since the 2012-13 team that went 13-3 under Jim Molinari. They have the type of balance (third in offensive efficiency, fourth in defensive efficiency) and a star that can carry them that can be more than handy as March approaches.
That success was far from a given, with those four starters gone and just 21 percent of the team’s minutes returning.
“It’s important not to try to repeat and go back to year one, especially when you have a lot of new faces,” Jeter said before the season. “Trenton Massner is really going to help anchor our team so we have to build around that.”
What that is building toward is, obviously, yet to unfold.
The Leathernecks were blown out in their game against ORU in Tulsa, and the Summit has a plethora of boom-or-bust teams capable of big nights. Zeke Mayo and SDSU, Grant Nelson and North Dakota State, and Kansas City’s brute force on the offensive glass are among the cases that could be made for a Golden Eagle pitfall in Abmas’ final campaign.
Massner has firmly put WIU in that conversation, however, and has made his mark on a Leatherneck program that has sagged in the last decade but appears on the upswing under Jeter.
The only immediate question is, what does he have in store next?