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OGDEN — It didn't take long for Weber State to see firsthand the dominant defense that tops the Big Sky Conference that Montana State boasts.
The Bobcats set the tone early on the defensive side of the ball, regularly got in passing lanes, and used their energy to upset any sort of rhythm the Wildcats attempted to get in all game. The tough defense, combined with a strong Montana State offense, led to Weber State dropping the gram on the road 67-52.
Jubrile Belo, the 6-foot-9 senior from London, England, was the star of the game for Montana State. He was a menacing force in the paint on both sides of the ball and finished the game with a double-double of 17 points and 12 rebounds — game highs in both categories.
Belo did most of his damage in the first half when he was a perfect 4-for-4 from the field and 5-for-5 from the free-throw line for a 13 points at the halftime break. It didn't matter whether Weber State put starting center Alex Tew, or backups Handje Tamba and Daniel Rouzan on Belo, he seemed to find a way to score.
Montana State got contributions from starters and role players, as all found ways to score against Weber State's defense. The Wildcats came into the game second in the Big Sky in defense, behind only the home team Bobcats, but there were no match to the top team.
The visitors managed to hold the Bobcats to just 67 points, but with an inconsistent offense that went for multiple scoreless stretches throughout the game, the Wildcats' defensive performance didn't matter.
Steven Verplancken led the team in scoring with 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting from the field. He also shot 2-of-4 from 3-point range, a welcome sign for this Wildcats team after he started conference play on a cold streak despite being the team's best 3-point shooter.
Dillon Jones pitched in 13 points and pulled down nine rebounds to come just short of yet another double-double. No other player on the team reached double figures in scoring against the Bobcats defense.
As a team, the Wildcats shot 42% from the field and just 25% from the 3-point line. Coming into this game, Weber State was shooting 30.4% from behind the arc, with a season low 3-of-19 performance against Idaho State. The visiting Wildcats had multiple open looks from deep in the game but failed to convert.
The first half started out slow for both teams. Each side went through long cold stretches where scoring was practically non-existent. Montana State built up a quick 16-6 lead near the midway point of the first half before the Bobcats entered a scoring drought.
While the Bobcats struggled to find the bottom of the basket, the Wildcats dealt with their own offensive issues and failed to capitalize on the opportunity.
But it was the last four minutes of the half where Weber State fell apart. With Montana State holding onto a 25-16 lead at the final media timeout of the half, the Bobcats came back and went on a 14-3 run, which was highlighted by an alley-oop dunk at the buzzer to go into halftime leading 39-19.
Instead of throwing in the towel after the first half, the Wildcats opened up the second half on a 10-0 run that was capped off by a tough baseline layup from Jones.
For a time, it looked like Weber State could find its way back into the game. The Wildcats couldn't miss and the Bobcats couldn't make anything, but it didn't take long before Montana State came out of its slump and ran all over the visiting team.
It took Weber State until the 8:12 mark in the second half to surpass the point total that Montana State reached by halftime. While the Wildcats did hit some big shots down the stretch, it was too little, too late and the Bobcats ran away with the victory.
The loss meant a split for the Wildcats in the state of Montana this season and dropped their season record to 8-10 and 3-2 in the Big Sky Conference. Weber State returns home to take on middling Portland State on Thursday night.