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OGDEN — The Wildcats finally got to play on their home court after five straight road games as they welcomed Northern Arizona to Dee Events Center for the first conference game of the season.
Weber State struggled to hit shots but remained solid on defense and forced the Lumberjacks (3-5) into 28 turnovers to pull away for a 67-44 win to remain undefeated on the season.
"Offensively, we were just off just a little bit; we just missed some shots that we normally make," Weber State head coach Randy Rahe said. "I didn't like that, but the thing we did is we didn't let missed shots stop us from guarding, which a lot of teams do.
"If the shot's aren't going in, they don't play as hard defensively, they get a little discouraged. We did not do that; we kept amping up the defense and got some turnovers."
Weber State's Dillon Jones opened the game scoring nine of the first 11 points for the Wildcats, and his team jumped out to a quick 11-3 advantage; but Jalen Cone nailed a 3-point shot for Northern Arizona that was followed by consecutive layups by Ajang Ageuek and Carson Towt to stop the run.
"I just noticed that the game was kind of just muggy — turnovers, fouls or whatever," said Jones, who finished the game with 18 points, 12 rebounds and five steals. "You've just got to know when to be aggressive and when to set the tone for the team. And as a leader of the team, that's kind of a little bit of my role."
Following Jones' hot start, freshman Dyson Koehler came off the bench and took over the scoring responsibility during a stagnant and sloppy first half. Koehler scored the final 11 of the team's 14 points for the Wildcats in the first half, which included two 3-pointers. Outside of Jones' and Koehler's scoring, the first half was a defensive battle and a turnover fest by both teams.
At the halftime break, Weber State shot 9 of 25 from the field and just 2 of 12 from the 3-point line, and was forced into 10 turnovers. Northern Arizona shot 5 of 21 and just 2 of 7 from behind the arc.
The Lumberjacks turned the ball over 17 times in the first half, with almost half of them being traveling violations. Despite the poor shooting and the high number of turnovers, Weber State only led by 10 points at the half.
Whatever the message Rahe shared to his team in the locker room at the break, it didn't help the Wildcats hit shots in the second half. Instead it forced the Wildcats to take better care of the ball and convert on Northern Arizona's turnovers. In the second half, the Wildcats did not commit a turnover and continued to buy in on defense as they forced the Lumberjacks into 11 more turnovers.
"We didn't have a turnover in the second half and we took care of the boards — did a lot better job and that's kind of how we got going again," Rahe said of his team's turnaround.
With 12 minutes left in the game, the Wildcats led by 9 points and had a difficult to trying to extend a lead as a result of defensive lapses and not getting back to stop the ball after missed shots they had been used to seeing go through the net in prior games.
The Lumberjacks, though, switched to a 2-3 zone and Weber State's Koby McEwen, who finished with 13 points, took advantage of the space he was given and drained a 3-point shot to start a 24-6 run over the next minutes of play.
"It all came from our defense," Rahe said on run to closeout the game. "Our defense revved up a little bit, got hands on balls, turned them over, made a couple easy shots, and then we were able to get away from them."
After a long stretch of road games, the Wildcats are excited to get consecutive home games for the first time this year. The team will play Portland State Saturday at 6 p.m. MT before traveling to Washington State.
"It was nice to play in front of the home fans, and I'm prideful to play in front of Weber State because I don't want people to take for granted what we're doing," Jones said.