Montana State edges Weber State in double overtime of Big Sky semifinal

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OGDEN — It all came down to one possession.

Weber State's defense had held firm for over 49 minutes of game time, but faltered in the final seconds and that was the difference in the ballgame and the season.

Tied 58-58 with No. 2 seed Montana State in double overtime, the third-seeded Wildcats came up with an empty possession that gave the Bobcats the ball with 13 seconds remaining. After a quick timeout, Montana State put the dagger in Weber State fans' hearts when guard Darius Brown found his backcourt mate RaeQuan Battle slipping past the Wildcats' defense and proceeded to throw down a massive dunk to give the Bobcats the 60-58 win.

After a couple inbound plays with less than two seconds to go, Weber State's Steven Verplancken threw up a 3-pointer that was blocked and the Wildcats' season was finished.

Though the outcome of the game wasn't decided until the last moments of double overtime, the road to get there was bumpy and grueling for both teams. At the end of regulation, neither team had reached 50 points with the score tied at 48-48 before getting into the bonus periods. Each team struggled offensively the whole game; on the other hand, the two teams showcased why they're ranked No. 1 and No. 2 defensively in the Big Sky conference.

With No. 9-seeded Northern Arizona having already punched its ticket to the conference tournament final Wednesday night, the Wildcats and Bobcats played each other like it already was the final.

The game was long, slow and physical. The entire year, Weber State's been a team that casually brings the ball up the court, runs its sets in the halfcourt and comes away with hopefully a quality shot and this game copied that formula perfectly. Offense came at a high premium for both sides and ultimately the game was decided by one team making one more play than the other.

Weber State was led by its unanimous first team all-conference star in Dillon Jones, who played all 40 minutes of regulation and all 10 minutes of each overtime period. However, despite leading the team in scoring with 18 points, Jones had another difficult night from the field as he made just 5-of-24 shots and didn't make a 3-pointer. In the two Big Sky tournament games, the 6-foot-6 forward went 1-of-12 from behind the arc.

The Wildcats' second leading scorer was Verplancken, who finished with 14 points on 6-of-14 shooting from the field. Although Weber State's top two scorers combined for more than half their team's points, they came at an inefficient rate and even the made shots carried a price.

Montana State has long been known for an aggressive play style and the team is in the upper regions of the country when it comes to fouls drawn. In this semifinal game, the two teams combined for 44 fouls in an almost even split — 23 called against Weber State opposed to 21 against Montana State. The Wildcats had two players foul out — their two centers Alex Tew and Handje Tamba — while the Bobcats lost their primary backup forward Great Osobor in overtime.

As the low final score indicated, the game started out slow and never picked up. Weber State led for most of the first half, but its lead never exceeded 6 points as Montana State rode the backs of its center Jubrile Belo and Osobor to keep things close. As has happened many times this season for the Wildcats, they went cold near the end of the half, finishing nearly the last five minutes without a made field goal and trudged into halftime leading 25-24.

Starting the second half, the Wildcats found some offense from their guard line and Verplancken got the team's first points on a baseline jumper, followed by two straight possessions with KJ Cunningham completing 3-point plays the hard way by hitting a 2-pointer with a foul.

But the hot start wouldn't last and the game not only slowed down, it practically drew to a complete stop. In the final 14 minutes of regulation the Wildcats made just two more field goals while the Bobcats hit three. With 13:50 to go and tied 38-38, both teams scored 10 points on a few 2-pointers and free throws.

The exhaustion each team dealt with was evident from players' body language through the end of the main periods and into the overtimes. In the first five-minute overtime period, both teams scored just 4 points to tie 52-52. And in the second overtime, Montana State's will was just that much stronger than Weber State's and the Bobcats have moved on while the Wildcats are headed home.


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Thomas Gordon


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