Big 2nd half helps Wildcats take down Montana State in 73-63 win

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OGDEN — After falling hard on national TV to Northern Colorado on Monday, Weber State didn't have long to regroup before welcoming in Montana State, the second place team in the Big Sky Conference standings, to Ogden on Thursday.

Going against the top-ranked defense in the conference, the Wildcats used a strong second half shooting performance, combined with the second best defense in the conference to defeat Montana State 73-63. Weber State was grateful to be back home after a four-game road trip in which the team split its games.

While coming off one of the worst, if not the worst, losses of the season for the Wildcats, and then turning around quickly to win the next game, Weber State head coach Eric Duft said there "wasn't any magical speech" to get his guys ready to play.

"I said it's gonna come down to now about who we are," Duft said. "And if we're made of the right things and we're about the right things, then we'll bounce back."

The first half of the game was a close, with Montana State in the lead for most of the time, but Weber State kept pushing.

For two teams known for their defensive prowess, both shot the ball at a high percentage in the first half. The Wildcats shot 58.3% from the field in the half but just 33.3% from 3-point range — the team didn't record a distance shot until guard KJ Cunningham got one to fall from the left wing with about 7:52 to play in the half.

While those kind of shooting numbers typically have a team in front during a game, the visiting Bobcats shot the ball even better. Montana State hit 66.7% of their shots from the field and made 55.6% of their 3-pointers. By halftime, the visitors led 39-34 and the biggest difference was the Bobcats' ability to hit more deep shots than the Wildcats.

While it may have felt like the Bobcats couldn't miss in the first half, the team came back down to earth in the second, though, the Wildcats kept up a consistent offense throughout the rest of the game.

Weber State forward Dillon Jones — who finished with another double-double on game highs of 18 points and 12 rebounds — picked up the defensive intensity in the second half, which led to some easy buckets on the offensive end to tie the game up 47-47 with just over 12 minutes to play.

Weber State guard Junior Ballard, who drove the left side of the lane and dished to backup center Handje Tamba for a big slam dunk, gave the Wildcats a lead it would not relinquish.

Over the course of nearly 14 minutes of the second half, Weber State went on a 30-7 run to put distance on Montana State. The Wildcats built up its largest lead of 14 points with about six minutes left in the game, but the Bobcats didn't quit and whittled it down to nine. Montana State couldn't get any closer before the final buzzer sounded, though.

"We all know that we're capable of winning games," said guard Zahir Porter, who provided 13 points in quality minutes off the bench. "We've been down in close games before, we've been up big, we've been down big, we've been through a lot."

Down the stretch, Duft's team managed to withstand the storm and came out with another big conference win. For a team currently ranked third in the conference and with eyes still on the No. 2 seed and a good run in the conference tournament, wins like the one against Montana State build confidence.

"Tonight, it's just kind of you stand there and watch those guys compete and play," Duft said. "And you're proud of them and really proud of this team tonight and the way we bounce back."


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