Weber State pulls out 90-89 OT victory in regular season finale

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OGDEN — After Weber State's senior night win over Idaho State on Saturday night, head coach Eric Duft said his team would prepare for the regular season finale against Northern Arizona like it was any other game, despite having already locked in a third-place ranking in the Big Sky Conference standings.

Duft rolled out his usual starting five for the final game of the season, and he likely didn't expect a game that required overtime against a team ranked seventh in the conference standings coming into Monday, but that's what happened.

The Wildcats exhausted every option and came away with a 90-89 victory over Northern Arizona to spoil their senior night festivities.

The game came down to the wire, and the outcome wasn't decided until Northern Arizona's Jalen Cone's last-second 3-pointer bounced around the rim a few times before falling out to seal a win for Weber State.

The Wildcats held the lead for most of the overtime period, but the scrappy Lumberjacks didn't go away and required every ounce of effort from the visitors before they get some time off to prepare for the upcoming conference tournament.

But the Wildcats almost didn't need overtime.

With two seconds left in the game, Weber State looked like it would escape with a win in regulation. Weber State's Steven Verplancken knocked down a pair of free throws to take a 3-point lead. and Northern Arizona had one last shot at a tie game. From the opposite baseline, the Lumberjacks heaved the ball to forward Nik Mains who was just past half court.

Mains looked right and dished the ball to senior Liam Lloyd, who drained a 3-pointer from the left wing to force overtime.

While the Wildcats were fortunate to come away with a win after the dust settled in overtime, the game didn't start out looking like it'd end well for the Wildcats. Playing their third game in six days, Weber State came out of the gate a step slow and the Lumberjacks with all the energy right off its senior night celebration.

Northern Arizona led for most of the first half and, at times, looked like it might break away before the Wildcats found enough offense to bring the score close again. The Northern Arizona guard line created trouble for the Weber State defense as guards Cone and Xavier Fuller combined for 19 points in the first half.

The Lumberjacks hit 3-pointers at a high clip in the opening frame, and Cone shot 4-of-6 from deep while forward Lloyd went 3-of-4 from behind the arc. But though Weber State's 3-pointers didn't seem to have the splash that Northern Arizona's did, the Wildcats put together a 14-0 run on the back of three straight possessions that ended with a deep shot.

The teams then traded buckets before the Lumberjacks went into halftime leading 39-37.

With many Weber State players dealing with minor physical issues, especially for center Alex Tew, the team needed to rely on the play of its guards and star forward Dillon Jones to pull out the win. Four Wildcats players finished in double figures, all of which were the only players to record 3-pointers on the team.

Verplancken led the team in scoring with 26 points, which included the game-winning free throws in overtime. He also pitched in four rebounds and four assists, and went 4-of-8 from the 3-point line. Jones notched his 19th double-double of the season with 24 points on 9-of-10 shooting from the field and he pulled down 11 rebounds.

With Tew nursing a knee issue the entire second half, backup center Handje Tamba received the bulk of the minutes in his place. The sophomore from the Democratic Republic of the Congo had one of his best games of the season as he tallied 6 points and secured seven rebounds for his team.

The second half greatly resembled the first half in that the teams spent a lot of time close in score and traded leads often. By the end of the game, the two teams had tied seven times and there were 11 lead changes — and the outcome wasn't decided until the very end.

With the regular season officially wrapped up, Weber State gets some time off to heal and prepare for the upcoming Big Sky Tournament that takes place from March 4-8 in Boise, Idaho.

The Wildcats won't play their first game until March 6, against sixth-ranked Sacramento State. With a grueling, down-to-the-wire win in the season finale, Duft and his team welcome the break as it prepares for a shot at a conference title.

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Thomas Gordon


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