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OGDEN — After putting up a season high in points in a half and an entire game in Weber State's win over Portland State on Thursday night, the Wildcats found a way to win a game with their lowest point total of the season in a 50-48 grind-it-out win over Sacramento State.
In one of the biggest slugfests of the year, Weber State's Dillon Jones put the Wildcats ahead with a driving layup against the Hornets' 7-footer with six seconds to go in the game. Sacramento State's Zach Chappell drove in against Junior Ballard and heaved up a well-defended bank shot that rolled in and out of the basket at the end to secure the win for the home team.
"I guess my instinct just thought the euro (step) because I just got him (center Callum McRae) one way and went back the other, because he hadn't seen that tonight," Jones said about his final basket. "It worked and it just went in, so it wasn't nothing too crazy."
Prior to Jones' final bucket, the Wildcats had gone about six minutes without a made basket and saw their largest lead of the game — 9 points — disappear as the Hornets tied the game 48-all with 24 seconds left to play. After a quick timeout by Weber State head coach Eric Duft, he put the ball in his forward's hands and let him go to work.
"I'd like to say that was some fabulous coaching deal," Duft said. "But it was basically just, 'We gotta go make a play here; then we gotta go make a play on defense and then get a rebound.' And that's really what it was."
Jones recorded another double-double — just days after he flirted with a triple-double — as he led all scorers with 18 points and pulled down 14 rebounds. Forward Dyson Koehler finished with 12 points, and guard Steven Verplancken had 10 points of his own, despite shooting 4-of-13 from the field and just 1-of-7 from the 3-point line.
As the final score indicated, offense was a struggle for both teams: Weber State outshot Sacramento State just 33% to 29% from the field. The Wildcats shot 6-of-18 from behind the 3-point line and 71% from the free-throw line.
Sacramento State's leading scorer on the season, Chappell, finished with just 6 points on 2-of-17 shooting from the field — a testament to the defensive work that Weber State has put in this year. The Hornets' leading scorer was guard Austin Patterson, who finished with 12 points and was the only visiting player to finish in double figures.
"I just told our team it was my favorite win of the year," Duft said. "To shoot 32%, to play offense like we did tonight, and a lot of that has to do with Sac State — they're extremely good defensively — but to have that offensive performance tonight and still win is a testament to our team and how hard they play."
Weber State got off to a hot start and it looked like the game might turn into a repeat of the dominant win on Thursday. The Wildcats jumped out to a quick 11-3 lead with four different players recording a basket in the opening minutes. Meanwhile, Sacramento State started out just 1-of-8 from the field, their only basket a 3-pointer from forward Hunter Marks that tied the game at 3-3.
But as has happened before, the Wildcats cooled off, and the Hornets fought their way back into the game to take a 24-21 lead by halftime. Sacramento State's big center McRae caused a lot of problems for Weber State's guards, who regularly got past their defenders only to find the paint completely blocked up by the 7-footer.
In the second half, both teams shot a worse percentage from the field, despite each side playing with a bit more tempo. Turnovers and foul trouble led to both teams getting in the bonus with plenty of time remaining. The teams traded blows; and though there were only two lead changes in the second half, they found themselves tied seven different times.
On a poor shooting night, the Wildcats had to get creative with how they scored, particularly as they looked to drive and dish the ball out to shooters or lure the Hornets' big man out of the paint long enough for a quick layup. Despite the offensive struggles, Weber State pulled through and claimed sole possession of third place in the Big Sky Conference.
"The psychology of the game — us coming off an easy, basically an easy win; them coming off a tough loss, and it was going to be we have to find it," Duft said. "And that was our message today."