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OGDEN — Some things never change.
In a nearly identical game script to the last matchup against Montana, Weber State fell down 20 points early, pulled within one late, but ultimately saw its comeback bid fall short on Thursday. The Big Sky-leading Grizzlies held on for an 83-80 win at the Dee Events Center.
Weber State's Jerrick Harding scored 30 points, including 27 in the final 20 minutes, while Brekkott Chapman added 20 to pace a 56-point second half for the Wildcats.
In the final minute, Weber pulled within one point twice on a pair of layups from Cody John, who finished with 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting. But with the score at 81-80 with 13 seconds left, Montana’s Kendal Manuel knocked in two free throws to give Montana a three-point lead and the eventual final score.
On the ensuing possession, Harding attempted a final 3-point attempt, but the ball glanced off the front of the iron, as did Chapman's putback attempt, sealing Montana's eighth-straight victory over the Wildcats.
“We gotta give ‘em two halves,” Harding said. “I feel like we’ve been really inconsistent game to game, half to half, and we have to shore that up. It’s the end of the season. We can’t have mental breakdowns like this, especially versus a good team like Montana.”
Much like he’s done in the past, Harding carried the Wildcats when they needed him most, shooting an impressive 8-of-11 from the field and 10-of-11 from the charity stripe in the second half to nearly erase a double-digit deficit. But in the end, it was not enough to stop Weber’s hearts from being broken on Valentine's Day.
Weber falls to 15-10 on the season and 9-5 in Big Sky play. With the loss, the Wildcats have dropped four of their last six games, including two to Montana (18-6, 11-2) within that timeframe.
"I gotta give Montana credit, they're good," Weber head coach Randy Rahe said. "They play a bunch of old guys and they play like veterans."
The Grizzlies certainly played like veterans Thursday, as four upperclassmen finished in double-figures. They were led by Sayeed Pridgett's 29 points and 16 rebounds, and followed by Michael Oguine (17 points), Manuel (16 points) and Ahmaad Rorie (13 points).
Slicing to the rim and attacking the offensive glass, that quartet combined for 38 of Montana's 40 points by halftime.
"They came out of the gates fast, we came out slow" Rahe said. "They were the faster, more aggressive team in the first half."
As has been a recurring issue for the Wildcats this season, Weber struggled to string together 40 solid minutes against Montana. Much like their earlier game against the Grizzlies, the Wildcats fell fast into an early hole as they shot a dismal 8-of-28 in the first half, while allowing their visitors to convert six offensive rebounds into 10 second-chance points.
Compounding this, Montana also outscored Weber's bench 12-2 in the opening 20 minutes.
Weber played without starting center Zach Braxton, and for much of the game used an eight-man rotation, including Michal Kozak (eight points, seven rebounds) and freshmen Dima Zdor and Donatas Kupsas. Rahe shoehorned Chapman into the 5-slot, but he proved no match for Montana’s relentless rim-pressure and gang-rebounding.
By the end of the first half, Pridgett took advantage of Weber's interior defense to the tune of a 13-point, 11-rebound double-double, and Montana led 40-20 until a 4-0 run from John brought it to within 16 at the break.
“We have to come together as a team and guards gotta get in and rebound,” Harding said. “Everybody just has to help because Zach was out. But we didn’t get that done.”
Still, the Wildcats slowly chipped away at the lead. They opened the second half on 14-9 run thanks to a lefty finishe by Harding, three made free throws, and a layup by John. In all, Weber went on to make 11 of their first 12 shots in the second half.
The Grizzlies answered with four-straight points; but from there, Weber closed on a 25-17 run, shaping up another close ending until Montana ended the rally with Pridgett’s layup and Manuel’s free throws.
“As I told our team, I said: ‘I would sure like to see what we could do if we could put two halves of basketball the way we play together and show this team what we could do. Because I think we would like the results,’” Rahe said. “We’ve got to figure out that consistency part.
"When we've got everybody with the same ready-to-go mindset, we’re good," he added. "We’ve got a good team. We just got to figure out how to stay there now.” Follow Dillon on Twitter @dillondanderson.