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OGDEN — Down two rotation players, Weber State's youthful athletes played with poise and toughness to claim a gritty 94-82 win Saturday.
The Wildcats had lost four of their last six games but didn’t blink when Montana State threatened to steal a victory. The Wildcats were impressive on many fronts, which helped push them to their tenth-straight victory over the Bobcats before 7,508 fans.
With five players scoring in double-figures, the Wildcats handed a white-hot Montana State team its first loss in five contests while improving to 16-10 on the season and 10-5 in Big Sky play.
“This was a good win for us,” Weber head coach Randy Rahe said. “Montana State has been playing almost as good a basketball and has been as hot a team as anybody in our league.
"So I was really pleased with our guys tonight. It’s what our team looks like, should look like.”
Coming out of halftime, Montana State (12-13, 9-6) nursed a 40-39 advantage behind a combined 22 points from Tyler Hall and Keljin Blevins. But within minutes, Weber State's Cody John banged down a triple to reclaim the lead.
One possession later, Jerrick Harding flushed home an artful coast-to-coast layup to begin what would become a 30-21 run over the next nine minutes.Caleb Nero hit a 3-pointer soon after to give Weber a 75-63 lead with 8:25 remaining.
The Bobcats cut the lead to single digits with five minutes remaining, and what ooked to be a runaway finish for the Wildcats turned into a battle, requiring the Weber starters to stay on the floor.
“They’re too good an offensive team. They’re just too hard to guard that you’re really not going to get away from them,” Rahe said of Montana State. “They just score so easily. Nobody in our league can really guard them.”
But after the Bobcats used an efficient offense to get back within striking distance, Weber’s guards played a central role in pulling away. Harding, John and Nero orchestrated a game-deciding 16-9 run with a hand in every bucket.
Harding got a jumper to fall in; Nero attacked the rim for a layup; John knocked in a three. The trio also combined for nine free throws down the stretch to pull away for good.
“That’s how we play at our best, when we see each other doing good and then we just feed off each other,” said John, who finished with 18 points and five assists.
Nero tied a career-high in scoring with 19 points — all in the second half. The freshman, who had not made multiple field goals in a game for 10 straight contests, finished 6-of-9 shooting for the night.
“He played terrific; we don’t win the game without him,” Rahe said of Nero. "He was confident, very aggressive, made good decisions. When we get that type of production from him off the bench, it really helps our team."
Harding contributed a game-high 28 points in the victory and Brekkott Chapman had a 14-point, 14-rebound double-double. Michal Kozak also provided a nice spark off the bench with 10 points, four rebounds and three assists in 28 minutes of action.
On the other side, Harald Frey scored 25 points for the Bobcats, as did Hall, who also added four assists and buried his 400th career 3-pointer with 50 seconds remaining in the game.
The Wildcats’ next game will be on February 21 when the 11-12 Sacramento State Hornets host Weber. Follow Dillon on Twitter @dillondanderson.