Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
OGDEN — Damian Lillard refused to let the Wildcats lose.
Lillard, a junior guard who came into Saturday night's game as the nation's leading Division I scorer with 25.6 points per game, poured in a career-high 41 points — 17 of those coming in the two overtime periods — as Weber State slipped past San Jose State in a wild double-overtime duel, 91-89, Saturday night at the Dee Events Center.
"He was amazing," said WSU head coach Randy Rahe, whose 100th career victory at the school was made even more memorable by the dramatic double-OT finish and Lillard's incredible performance, which ranks as the second-most points scored in a single game in Weber State history. "There's no other way to say it; he was just amazing."
Lillard had 24 points at the end of regulation, including the game-tying 3-pointer with 5.6 seconds left that tied it up at 67, but hey, he was just getting started.
In the first overtime, he hit another 3 that tied it at 71 and, after San Jose State took a four-point lead and things started looking doubtful for the Wildcats, Lillard came up huge again. First, he hit a floater in the lane, then stole the ensuing inbounds pass and scored, was fouled on the play and hit the free throw to put the Wildcats on top by a point, setting the stage for the second overtime.
Then in the second OT, Lillard hit yet another 3-pointer — his sixth of the night — and followed that up with a slick spin move in the lane that helped give Weber a seemingly safe six-point lead, 87-81, with two minutes to go.
But San Jose State wouldn't go away, as the Spartans' James Kinney canned a couple of 3-point bombs of his own, sandwiched around a Lillard free throw. And when Keith Shamburger hit a pair of free throws with 21 seconds remaining, it gave San Jose State an 89-88 edge.
Then Lillard came to the Wildcats' rescue one last time, slashing past the Spartans' defense for a driving, go-ahead layup with 10.7 seconds left. He was also fouled on the play and completed the conventional three-point play to make it 91-89. And when San Jose State lost the ball on its last possession, the Wildcats had escaped with the frantic win.
"I didn't really feel like I couldn't let the team lose," Lillard said. "I felt like we couldn't let ourselves lose on our home floor. I think that's what it was more about than me not letting them lose.
"I'm the leader of the team. This is my fourth year here, and I felt like if anybody was going to be the one to say, 'All right, let's go, we've got to pick it up,' or there's a big shot that needed to be made, a block, a steal or anything else, I felt like I should be the first one to step up and say 'I'll do it,' and tonight I did.
"It's just hard work paying off," Lillard said. "That's the way I see it. A lot of times throughout the season, it's easy to get tired and get away from your routine as far as getting shots up and keeping your game tight. And after sitting out last year being hurt, I figured out a lot of ways I can improve and during the season find ways to stay in the gym and shoot on my own time and ball-handling and keeping my game tight and working, working, working and understanding that this is my top priority. I think that's the main thing. I think that's what allowed me to score 41 points tonight.
"This is the best I've ever played, because this is the hardest I've ever worked. I think the fact that I've put in all the work that I do it's just paying off for me and my team."
Kyle Tresnak added 13 points and Scott Bamforth contributed 12 for the Wildcats (5-1), who will go up against instate rival BYU next week without senior forward Kyle Bullinger, who suffered a dislocated elbow on his right arm in a nasty first-half fall Saturday night.
For San Jose State (3-5), Kinney scored 28 points, Wil Carter contributed 19 points with seven rebounds, Calvin Douglas added 18 points and Shamburger chipped in with 16 more.
But this night belonged to Lillard, who made 13-of-21 shots from the floor, including 6-of-11 from 3-point range, along with 9-of-10 free throws. He also had a team-leading eight rebounds and four assists, along with a couple of steals and a blocked shot.
"Damian's the kind of kid that he'll just take what you give him and he's a very intelligent player in that he gets everybody involved and then he reads the situation," Rahe said. "And tonight, he was getting everybody involved; Kyle (Bullinger) goes out, so we lose a weapon there, and Scottie (Bamforth) wasn't his normal self shooting, so he understands that I've got to pick it up a little bit. And that's what he did.
"He just plays the game. Tonight he just played the game. It was a truly amazing performance by a really good player and a really good kid.
"Anything good that happens to him on the court, and the success that he has, he has earned every single bit of it."
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