Weber State comeback falls short in 74-69 loss to Montana

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OGDEN — For long periods of time on Saturday night, it appeared the Montana Grizzlies couldn't miss a shot. No matter what sort of defense Weber State threw at the visitors to Ogden, they had an answer.

The combination of red-hot shooting from the Grizzlies and an inconsistent offensive effort by the Wildcats led to a 74-69 Montana win over Weber State.

The visiting Grizzlies came into town riding the high of a four-game winning streak, while the Wildcats were set to play their fourth game in eight days. And for much of the game, it was clear which team had the upper hand.

The two teams traded buckets for most of the first half, and Montana got its hot shooting started by scoring its first 12 points on 3-pointers. Both teams' offenses ran well early on, and the fast back-and-forth tempo led to the first media timeout not coming until nearly seven minutes into the game with the teams tied 16-16.

But after that initial break, the Grizzlies kept hitting shots while the Wildcats cooled off. Midway through the first half, the visitors opened up a 25-16 lead on the back of 80% shooting from the field. Weber State was slow on a few defensive rotations, but it didn't seem to matter as Montana shot the lights out of the gym.

Montana guard Aanen Moody led all scorers in the game with 23 points, including 5-of-10 from 3-point range. He was supported by 18 points from fellow guard Brandon Whitney and 14 points from forward Dischon Thomas. At one point in the game, the 6-foot-9 Thomas was 4-of-4 from behind the arc, and his only miss came on a heat check midway through the second half.

Weber State found the offense again and got the score within three before a 3-pointer by Montana guard Lonnell Martin in the final seconds of the half put the Grizzlies up 37-31 going into the break.

"Sometimes you're mad at your guys or you're mad at your plan when (the opposing team) makes shots, because you're not doing it right," Weber State head coach Eric Duft said. "But, at times, guys just make shots that you are OK with them taking, and that was the case on a couple of those tonight."

As has happened in numerous games this season, Weber State came out of the halftime break with a deficit and have looked for a better second half performance to get themselves a win. But while the Grizzlies did cool off slightly in the second half, the Wildcats couldn't put together the right combination of defensive stops or offensive production to pull out the victory.

In the first 10 minutes of the half, Montana opened up its lead on the back of its 3-point shooting and ability to rebound better than Weber State. The Grizzlies finished the game having shot 14-of-25 from deep, and it was those 3-pointers that were the biggest difference in the game.

The Wildcats, on the other hand, went through a nearly six-minute scoring drought, which put Weber State in a 58-42 hole with a little less than eight minutes left to play.

The home team, however, found its offense and put together a 22-9 scoring run to pull within 3 points with about two minutes to go.

Forward Dillon Jones, and guards Steven Verplancken and Zahir Porter hit big shots down the stretch to close the gap; but, ultimately, the comeback fell short as the Grizzlies made just a few more plays than the Wildcats to put the game away.

"We're a team that loves close games," Verplancken said. "We always talk about in the huddle like we're gonna come back, we're gonna make the shots, and I think we had a chance at it."

Jones led Weber State in scoring with 21 points, eight rebounds and six assists in all 40 minutes of action. Porter pitched in 15 points off the bench, followed by Verplancken with 14 points and center Alex Tew with 11 points.

The Wildcats made eight 3-pointers on 19 attempts and shot a slightly lower percentage from the field overall, which turned out to be the big difference in a 5-point loss.

With the loss, Weber State holds its spot at third place in the Big Sky Conference by a slim margin over Montana. But after splitting the two games at home this week, the Wildcats will hit the road, once again, for two games next week as the regular season winds down.

"I was really proud of our guys' effort," Duft said. "And we're coming off a tough stretch of four games in eight days; we're playing guys a lot of minutes. ... And this is kind of where college basketball is right now, and they made a couple more plays than we did."


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