OGDEN — Weber State’s legs were buckling and its lungs were pumping and it was searching for one last pump of energy. In their fourth game in 10 days, the Wildcats had coughed up a double-digit lead late in the second half and were clinging to a four-point lead against Sacramento State.
With 1:38, WSU’s leading scorer Davion Berry — who on the night hesitantly looked for his shot after bruising his hand — yo-yoed his way in the paint from the top of the key before finding Jason Richardson hibernating in the nearside corner. Richardson, ready to fire, extended his legs, with a nearby defender franctically closing ground, and buried a decisive 3-pointer that brushed nothing but nylon.
From that point forward, the Wildcats closed out on a 7-2 run to put away the Hornets, 65-58, for their ninth consecutive win and improved to a perfect 8-0 in Big Sky play. Since starting the season 1-2, the 'Cats have won 12 of 13.
“I knew that I had to knock it down,” said Richardson, who finished with nine points off three 3’s. “Davion Berry set me up beautifully — he penetrated and kicked it out and I knew I had to knock the shot down — so I knocked it down.”
“That’s Dev making a play,” WSU coach Randy Rahe added. “It was a huge shot, obviously, for Jordan and our team to make that shot at that time.”
Weber State (13-3, 8-0) was noticeably tired, especially in the beginning minutes. The Hornets (8-8, 3-5) jumped out to an early 7-2 lead after an and-1 play from Konnor Veteto and two buckets from Dylan Garrity.
That combo continued to induce headaches for Weber State.
Veteto, a mountain of a man who is listed at 6-foot-8 and 290 pounds, and Garrity, a quick, nimble guard, played off each other in ball-screen situations nearly every trip down the court.
Garrity finished with a game-high 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting, while Veteto added 16 points and eight rebounds.
“Garrity is a good player, and then you have the big guy Veteto setting the ball screens,” WSU’s Scott Bamforth said. “He’s a tough guy to get around.”
The ‘Cats took their first lead with 14:59 in the first half on Richardson’s corner 3-pointer, which sparked an 11-4 run culminating with Berry’s reverse layup in transition for a 17-11 advantage.
The Hornets, despite never recapturing the lead, never went away. With 6:48 in the first, Sacramento State’s Mikh McKinney slipped a double-team down the lane and scooped home a 3-point play to cut the deficit to 24-20.
Shortly thereafter, the Hornets embarked on a mini 6-0 run that included two uncontested layups from Veteto. Then, following another trey from Richardson and two freebies by Frank Otis, Sac State’s Joe Eberhand swished a 3-pointer to close out the first half down 34-31.
"They’re a tough team and we knew they were going to come in and fight and scratch,” Bamforth said.
Leading 41-36 in the second half, Bamforth — who has in-the-gym range — caught fire. The sharpshooter gunned three straight from distance, two mirror images of one another on the wing and the other from the top of the key, in a span of 1:40 to boost the lead to 50-40 with 11:13 remaining.
“He’s a terrific shooter,” Rahe said of Bamforth, “one of the best around.”
Bamforth finished with 18 points, including four makes from deep, and seven rebounds. Kyle Tresnak, who bodied up Veteto defensively, put in a solid 15 points with eight boards.
The Hornets, as they have numerous times throughout the season, refused to lie down. Behind two and-1 plays and a breakaway jam mixed with careless ball handing by WSU, Sac State pulled within 50-48 with 8:42 left.
“This was kind of the game that I expected, to be honest — a really tough, physical, grind-it-out affair," Rahe said. "That’s how Sacramento State plays and I knew that we were going to have to hang in there — fight like crazy — and find a way.”
The two exchanged scores before Richardson’s game-swinging corner bomb.
“When the ball game is on the line you can do two things: you can give in or you can fight,” Rahe said. “We made plays at the end that we needed to make. They hung in there and did a good job.”
The road doesn't ease up for the 'Cats, with four straight road games, including Montana State and co-Big Sky leader Montana, coming up next week.