Clinging to just a one-game lead in the Big Sky Conference, the Weber State University men’s basketball team traveled to Montana State University for a must-win game Saturday. The Wildcats took control of the game eight minutes in and defeated the Bobcats 86-68, ending a two-game losing streak.
“We looked like our old team tonight,” said WSU head coach Randy Rahe. “We played with a lot of energy. We played with a lot of passion. We guarded well. We rebounded well. We shot it really well. It just looked like a different team that we have seen for the last couple of games.”
The Wildcats entered last week with a three-game lead over the University of Northern Colorado. But after losses to Idaho State University and the University of Montana on the road, WSU was desperate for a win.
“It was a must-win,” said WSU senior Davion Berry. “I told the guys that I kind of let them down against Montana. I wasn’t aggressive. I wasn’t the leader that I have been all year for them. Tonight, I wanted to make sure I was the leader and led my team to the victory.”
The win brought the Wildcats’ conference record to 12-4. With a UNC loss, also on Saturday, the Wildcats now own a two-game conference lead with four games left to play.
Both teams started out cold, going scoreless on each of their first three possessions. The first three shots for WSU were all desperate 3-pointers.
Berry finally got the Wildcats on the board three minutes into the game with a tough floater in the lane. He scored the first four points of the game.
Both teams began to hit their stride after the first four minutes. After the first seven minutes, the Bobcats held a 10-7 lead after going on an 8-0 run.
The Wildcats responded by hitting back-to-back 3-pointers and held a 17-12 lead midway through the half after going on a 10-2 run of their own. Freshman Richaud Gittens led the push, penetrating inside for two layups. He also hit a few buckets from behind the arc in the first half.
The Wildcats pushed their lead to as many as nine before MSU brought the lead back down to just four with six minutes left.
Both teams went on mini runs for the next couple of minutes. WSU pushed its lead back to eight before the Bobcats cut it back down to four with three minutes left.
WSU made a late push and entered the half with a 39-30 lead.
Senior Jordan Richardson led all scorers with 12 points in the first half. Gittens added 10 points for WSU. The Wildcat bench outscored the MSU bench 13-0 in the first half.
“The one thing about Richaud is that he has no fear,” Rahe said. “I love that about him. He shot it well tonight. He had good rhythm. He plays without fear. He’s aggressive and confident. He’s got a little bit of that it factor in him.”
Senior Paul Egwuonwu led MSU with nine points and three rebounds. Senior Flavien Davis added eight points for the Bobcats.
Richardson continued to lead the Wildcats in the second half. He scored five early points to give the Wildcats a 13-point lead, their largest of the game to that point. Freshman Jeremy Senglin also caught fire in the second half, scoring seven early points.
The teams traded buckets early for the next few minutes. Most of those points came from the free-throw line as the officials tightened up their calls in the second half. Through the first 10 minutes, referees called 17 fouls, 10 on WSU.
The Wildcats blew the game wide open late, pushing their lead to 21 points with seven minutes to go in the game. Guards Berry, Richardson and Gittens sparked the run as WSU shot 61 percent from the field in the second half.
The Wildcats began to have success inside late in the half. Senior Kyle Tresnak had four buckets for eight points in the second half.
The Bobcats were continually able to score against the Wildcats, but WSU matched them point for point and left with an 86-68 win.
Berry led all scorers with 20 points. He also had three assists and three rebounds. Richardson added 19 points and Gittens chipped in 14.
Davis led MSU with 15 points and seven rebounds. Egwuonwu added 14 points and five rebounds for the Bobcats.
The Wildcats will host California State University, Sacramento on Thursday at the Dee Events Center. The Wildcats lost to CSUS on Feb. 1 in overtime 78-75 on a 75-foot buzzer-beater. Tipoff will be at 7 p.m.