OGDEN — For a few stressful moments during Saturday’s game between Weber State and Sacramento State, it seemed that Weber’s worst nightmare was coming true all over again.
But then, Weber woke up out of its slump.
After blowing a 12-point lead against Portland State to fall 76-75 on Thursday, Weber surrendered a 19-3 run to nearly blow a 21-point lead Saturday, allowing the Hornets to pull within five points until some late-game heroics from Jerrick Harding rescued the reeling Wildcats.
The junior guard scored Weber’s final 12 points. And in the end, the Wildcats defeated Sacramento State 75-65 to avoid the embarrassment of blowing its second-consecutive lead. It also ending Weber's two-game losing skid.
Harding, who came up hobbling after rolling his ankle at the 10:17 mark of the first half, capped a physically demanding day by closing out Sacremento State to the tune of 25 points (on 8 of 16 shooting and 6 of 6 from the free throw line) and seven rebounds, while the crowd at the Dee Events Center showered him with cheers after every made basket, including one in which drained a falling off-the-glass three against an expiring shot clock late in the second half.
Weber improves to 14-8 on the season and 8-3 in Big Sky play with the victory.
Despite the surge from the Hornets, Harding said he wasn’t worried about his team coughing up another lead.
“Basketball is a game of runs,” he said. “The other team is gonna make a run. We just have to figure out a way to get through that and keep fighting.”
Harding certainly kept fighting on Saturday, willing his team to victory despite an underwhelming final 11 minutes from his supporting cast.
Weber was up 62-43 with 11:14 remaining before Sacramento State's Bryce Fowler, Ethan Esposito and Marcus Graves combined for 16 points and cut Weber's lead to five, momentarily quieting the anxious home crowd.
But Harding, who hit a fading lefty floater, four free throws and two triples during the final 7:48, carried his team to another home win.
“Getting up like that and letting our guard down like that is something that we’ve struggled a lot with this year,” forward Brekkott Chapman said. “We need to really get that under wraps coming down the stretch of the season.”
Head coach Randy Rahe agreed.
“We’ve had a lot of those games where we’ve had a lead and teams come back,” Rahe said. “We’ve mostly been able to maintain, hold our poise. Thursday night (against Portland State) got away from us a little bit because, No. 1, our minds weren’t right.”
But on Saturday night, the Wildcats held their poise even as the Hornets adjusted. Midway through the second half, Sacramento State switched from its normal man-defense to a zone coverage, causing Weber’s offense to shoot 1 of 9 through a 4-minute stretch — including four turnovers — and a Hornets 19-3 run.
But it all turned around.
With Harding cooking down the stretch, the Hornets missed or turned the ball over on five of their final seven possessions, and the gulf between the Wildcats and their visitors widened.
In all, Weber saw four players finish in double figures. Chapman finished with 15 points — all in the first half — as well as seven rebounds and four assists. Meanwhile, Zach Braxton added an impactful 12 points and seven rebounds, and freshman Israel Barnes did a little bit everything, compiling 10 points, five rebounds and three assists.
For the game, the Wildcats were a perfect 13 of 13 from the free-throw line and outrebounded the Hornets 35-28. As a team, they also assisted on 14 of their 27 made baskets, much to the delight of Rahe.
“Our ball movement was really good the first half and most of the second half,” he said. “Our whole offense is based on ball movement. I’ll take 14 assists on 27 made baskets all night long. … We had it zipping around pretty good for most of the night.”
The Hornets showed signs of life early, with the lead rocking back and forth between the teams midway through the first half. But after being tied at 22 with 8:15 remaining in the first frame, the Wildcats closed on a 20-9 run and carried a 42-31 lead into the intermission, which they would never surrender.
The momentum carried into the second half as Cody John sliced for a layup, Braxton assisted on Barnes’ cut, Harding swished a three, and Braxton converted consecutive dunks. And by the time Michal Kozak’s layup sank into the net, Weber led 62-43 with 11:14 remaining.
Sacramento State was led by Graves, who scored 14 points and dished out four assists on the night. Additionally, Fowler and Esposito pitched in 12 points each, while Joshua Patton added 11. Patton fouled out with nearly 8 minutes remaining in the game. Follow Dillon on Twitter @dillondanderson.