Wildcats falter in 2nd half in loss to undefeated Eastern Washington

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OGDEN — Weber State did its best to play spoiler to Eastern Washington's undefeated Big Sky record, but the team fell short in the rematch on Thursday night.

The Wildcats led for most of the first half but went cold in the second half. But the Eagles kept up the hot shooting en route to an 89-82 win that secured first place outright in the upcoming conference tournament.

The two teams came out of the gate hot, with Weber State (15-14, 10-6 Big Sky) jumping out to a quick lead in the opening minutes, despite Eastern Washington's (22-7, 16-0 Big Sky) firepower. Four of the Wildcats' first five baskets were made 3-pointers by three different players. The Wildcats played with confidence and made their shots.

The home team led for nearly 15 minutes in the first half, but the lead never exceeded 6 points. Wildcats head coach Eric Duft put together a game plan to try to keep the ball out of Angelo Allegri and Steele Venters' hands — Eastern Washington's two best players — and it seemed to be work.

But the Wildcats didn't have an answer for Eagles forward Casey Jones, who prepped at nearby Wasatch Academy before joining Eastern Washington. He finished the night with a career-high 25 points, which included three 3-pointers, after having only made 14 shots from behind the arc all season.

"One thing I was concerned about going into the game is just (Eastern Washington's) ability to make use of shot-making ability," Duft said. "And that was on display, because we had them out of whack in the first half. They really weren't getting anything out of their action, but then they were just making individual one-on-one plays and jumping up and making shots."

Both teams shot over 50% from the field in the first half, and Weber State did just enough to grab a 43-41 lead heading into halftime.

While Eastern Washington's Jones had his way for much of the night, the Wildcats got a career-night performance from forward Dyson Koehler, the 6-foot-7 sophomore from Draper. He recorded 10 points in the first half and put in the work needed on the defensive end, and was often tasked with guarding one of the Eagles' stars.

Koehler finished the night with a career-high 16 points, which was good as the second-best scorer on the team. He also pulled down five rebounds in the loss.

"I was just playing more aggressive," Koehler said. "That's what the coaches have always been telling me, and everyone's just saying play more aggressive. So I guess this is just a night where the shots were going in, at the beginning especially. And I was playing with a purpose and not really just roaming around; I was trying to attack and score."

Dillon Jones led the way again for the team with 21 points, and came one rebound shy of another double-double. Zahir Porter and Steven Verplancken scored in double figures with 14 points and 12 points, respectively.

The second half opened with Weber State getting a defensive stop and transitioning into a wide open dunk for Jones. And for a moment, it seemed the Wildcats might get the momentum to break the game open. But following the dunk, Eastern Washington went on a 12-0 run over a three minute span and opened up a lead it would not relinquish.

Duft's team continued to get the looks it wanted during the second half, but the players suddenly lost the ability to hit open shots. The Wildcats failed to make a single 3-point shot in the final 20 minutes and went 0-for-10 from 3-point range. The Eagles, however, continued to knock down 3s, and finished the game 13-of-23 from behind the arc.

"Some of it was our mistakes, but there's a couple of those that are just shot makers making shots," Duft said of the opening minutes of the second half. "And then during that stretch we played good offense. We got wide open three after wide open three; we didn't make any."

With two regular season games left on the schedule, the Wildcats need a bounce-back effort against Idaho in order to secure third place in the Big Sky Conference.

"Basketball is, you have to have a short memory," Koehler said. "It's a loss and then we have to play in what two days? ... We have to look at what we did wrong and look at what we did right, and then just take it into the next game."


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