OGDEN — Often times in college basketball, overtime carries the feeling of a heart attack, heartbreak or some combination thereof.
But for Weber State, it was something else: fun.
On Saturday, the hosting Wildcats won a 71-66 battle over Northern Colorado — despite being outrebounded 53-36 and shooting 25 percent from three — that left those participating in a glowing buzz.
“That was a really good college basketball game,“ Weber State head coach Randy Rahe said after the game. “This was actually fun competition. I tell our guys all the time ‘go lose yourself in the competition, enjoy the competition, because that’s what college basketball is all about.’ And this was a perfect example of high-level competition. Guys lost themselves in it. Both teams are fighting, scratching and it comes down to a play or two.”
A decisive play or two is right.
For the Wildcats (17-7; 10-2 Big Sky), those decisive moments came in the form of a pair of blunders from Northern Colorado’s Jordan Davis with the Bears leading 61-59 with nine seconds remaining. A chaotic sequence began with Davis missing the second of two free throws, Zach Braxton gathering the rebound and passing to Jerrick Harding, who was then fouled by Davis with six seconds remaining.
The sequence then ended with Harding marching to the line and calmly knocking down the tying free throws that would send the Wildcats to overtime tied at 61.
“I saw it coming off the rim and I tried to grab it,” Braxton said of his game-saving rebound. “There’s not a whole lot going through your head. It’s basically instinct at that point.”
In the season’s first overtime, Weber State doubled the Bears scoring output (10-5) behind a combined eight points from Braxton and Harding, who continued their trend of getting better as the game went along. As a team, the Wildcats outrebounded Northern Colorado eight to six in the extra session.
“We made it happen tonight,” Braxton said. “It was a great team win.”
While the final box score shows a second consecutive double-double from the Colorado native, it still doesn't quite capture the true nature of his dominance on Saturday.
In a second half and overtime that featured six lead changes and five ties, it was Braxton that provided a game-saving twenty-five minutes, beginning with an early 10-point onslaught to lead a 13-2 run coming out of halftime, and ending with clutch rebounding, scoring and defense. His was a game equal parts bully-ball and balletic; a clinic in power, footwork and deft scoring touch.
In all, the junior center scored 19 points in the second half and overtime en route to a career-high night.
“I’m just glad we won,” an always-modest Braxton said of his performance after the game.
Despite equally poor shooting early (both teams shot 33 and 13-percent from the field and from three in the first half), the Bears retained their ability to finish inside, as their 18 first half points-in-the-paint came on a series of inch-perfect layups over the outstretched arms of Braxton, Michal Kozak (two points, one block) and Brekkott Chapman (five points, five blocks).
For Weber State, it was just the opposite. The Wildcats’ punchless offense saw Braxton miss the team’s first three shots, Harding’s patented floater bounce out and three after three clang off the rim. Even a trip to the free throw line for Braxton yielded zero points late in the first half.
In what was a season-worst performance in numerous categories, scoring droughts and empty possessions led to rebounds (eight offensive rebounds) and extra possessions (eight second-chance points) for Northern Colorado and put WSU on the wrong side of a 29-19 scoreline after a 20-minute rock fight.
“We weren’t scoring a lot in the first half,” Harding said. “We were getting great shots, they just weren’t going in. (Coach Rahe) said to ‘just stick with it and eventually shots will fall.’”
Braxton scored a career-high 25 points and added 13 rebounds, while Harding played every second of the allotted 45 minutes to finish with 23 points, five rebounds and three steals. Ryan Richardson pitched in 12 points, three assists and two steals. As a team, Weber State finished with an impressive nine blocks, five of which coming courtesy of Chapman.
“I feel like this is the biggest test we’ve had all year,” Harding said after the game. “We battled through. This win, I feel like we’ve grown a lot as a team just being resilient through all the adversity we went through as a team tonight.”
With the win, WSU extends its winning streak to seven games with rematches against Portland State and Sacramento State to come next week.
Dillon Anderson is studying literary journalism as a student at the University of Utah. You can follow him on Twitter @DillonDanderson.