Going into Thursday night’s quarterfinal matchup against the University of Montana, the Weber State University men’s basketball team had not defeated the Grizzlies in postseason play in 20 years.
In Thursday’s game, the No. 8 Wildcats came close to breaking that streak but came 3 points shy of bumping the No. 1 Grizzlies out of the Big Sky Conference Championship during the quarterfinals.
In a game that went into overtime, the Wildcats lost to the Grizzlies 76-73 as a three-pointer by sophomore guard Jeremy Senglin bounced off the rim at the buzzer.
“That’s one heck of a basketball game,” Montana head coach Travis DeCuire said. “I think we owe Weber State some respect just for the way they performed. They came out ready to play.”
In a close, back-and-forth matchup, the Wildcats jumped out to an early lead, holding the Grizzlies scoreless through the first three minutes of the game. Montana gained its first lead of the night six minutes into the game off a layup from sophomore guard Mario Dunn, but Weber State tied the game 12 seconds later on a layup and retook the lead off a shot from junior forward Joel Bolomboy. The Grizzlies took the lead back with just over eight minutes remaining in the first half and maintained a 35-27 lead into halftime.
The Wildcats came out of halftime and went on an 11-4 scoring run to pull within one point of the Grizzlies. They remained within six points of Montana through most of the period. With just under eight minutes left in the game, Weber State grabbed the lead for the first time in the half, and with 31 seconds remaining sophomore guard Jeremy Senglin hit a three-pointer to give the Wildcats the 67-65 lead. Sophomore guard Richaud Gittens stepped up to the free throw line with 18 seconds to play, but after he missed two free throws Montana grabbed possession of the ball and senior guard Jordan Gregory made both of his free throws to send the game to overtime.
“I’m not gonna lie, I was pretty scared,” Gregory said about stepping up to the free throw line. “But I told myself if I was gonna miss the first one we were screwed, so I better make the first one.”
Gregory made a layup three seconds into overtime to give Montana the lead, and the Grizzlies extended their lead to four points with just over a minute remaining in the period. The Wildcats pulled within one point after Bolomboy hit a three-pointer with 55 seconds left, but a layup from Grizzlies sophomore guard Riley Bradshaw sealed the win for Montana as a last second three-point shot from Senglin bounced off the rim.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the team than I am right now,” WSU head coach Randy Rahe said. “I want to give credit and congratulations to Montana. They have a really nice team.
“We played them tonight, we played our ass off they played their ass off and they beat us in overtime. Every time we play them it’s a physical, tough game. We obviously get our juices flowing a little bit for them and they get it flowing for us and we have a nice little rivalry and we enjoy playing them because it’s going to be a good, competitive game.”
Returning to action for the first time since breaking his jaw against Southern Utah University, Senglin provided a major spark for the Wildcats, scoring a game-high 25 points and recording four assists.
“It was nice to have him back tonight,” Rahe said. “I’ll be honest with you, now Joel has been playing really, really well, but I was a little surprised as to how well Jeremy played after having a month off. It tells you what kind of player he is and what he can become. He’s got a chance to be pretty dang good down the road.”
Bolomboy also put up a big performance in the loss, scoring 18 points and making a game-high three blocks while pulling down a team-high 10 rebounds for his 12th double-double of the year. Sophomore forward Kyndahl Hill put up a solid performance with 12 points, six rebounds and two blocks before fouling out of the game with just over one minute left in the second period.
The loss marked the final game for senior James Hajek, who shot 1-4 from the field for two points and five rebounds. Hajek finishes his career with the Wildcats with 233 rebounds and 45 blocks, while shooting 94-190 and scoring 238 points in 88 games.
The Wildcats finish the season with a 13-17 record (8-10 in conference play). They will look to rebound from this season’s results when they return to play this fall.
“I am so excited about the future of our program and I am so excited about next year what we will become. We got some pieces coming, we got these guys coming back, and we’re going to get bigger, faster and stronger,” Rahe said. “Every once in a while you have a year like this, but we build off this now and the way these guys finished up this year, the future is bright.”