We didn't guard very well in the first half. I think their athleticism got us a bit in the first half, but we put ourselves in position and you've got to take the freebies when you get them and we didn't make them tonight. —Randy Rahe
OGDEN — Weber State’s Davion Berry had just pulled the Wildcats even with East Carolina in the CollegeInsider.com tournament championship with 21 seconds left.
The Pirates elected to play rather than script the final possession and wasted little time moving to the opposite end. Miguel Paul and Maurice Kemp had combined for 43 points, so one of the stars was going to take the final shot for ECU.
It was the only way.
Paul, a hiccup-quick guard, waited patiently for a pick-and-roll as the clock violently ticked toward zero. He motioned toward his right, slipping one defender, but — to his surprise — was instantly closed off by another. He needed to improvise. Already committed, Paul pirouetted back and found Akeem Richmond resting 25 feet beyond the arc.
Richmond corralled the pass — without enough time to even square his feet — and whipped the nets as time expired to stun Weber State, 77-74, in front of 10,583 fans at the Dee Events Center on Tuesday.
“I kind of knew it was coming to me. I just shot the ball with confidence. Even though I wasn’t hitting as many shots — I knew it was going in,” said Richmond, who finished with six points. “My dad always taught me (to) shoot the ball with confidence and that’s what I did. I’m just ecstatic.”
For the Wildcats (30-7), the shot ended a historic season in heartbreaking fashion.
“It hurts, but I feel like we had them where we wanted to and we let them off the hook,” Weber State’s Scott Bamforth said. “It hurts to know that you were in position and then you just didn’t finish it. That’s what’s really disappointed.”
The Wildcats captured a 71-65 advantage with 2:55 remaining behind a 17-4 run highlighted by 3-pointers from Davion Berry and Bamforth and two powerful dunks by Kyle Tresnak. ECU (23-12) was on the ropes.
Bamforth finished with 19 points and four 3-pointers — finalizing his CIT total to 23. Berry tallied 16 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Tresnak scored 10 points with seven rebounds. And Frank Otis added 16 points and eight boards.
“I think obviously after the Montana loss we were hurt. But I feel like we showed what kind of people we are,” Bamforth said, holding back tears. “We bounced back from that and got on a little roll and just enjoyed basketball. We can kind of hang our hat on that and say we bounced back.
“I think it’s all in perspective now. What we’ve done is pretty good. At the end of the day I feel life is about making relationships. That’s my brothers in the locker room and we had a fun time.”
Following a timeout, Kemp pulled ECU within three, 71-68, after Robert Sampson tracked down the first offensive rebound for the Pirates with 2:41 remaining.
Then with 1:19 on the clock, the Pirates pulled even. Paul hopscotched into the paint and tossed an acrobatic layup off the glass. But the shot was marred by controversy. As the ball remained in the cylinder, Robert Sampson completed the shot with a tip and was rewarded the two points statistically.
“I can’t comment on it,” Rahe said on the missed goaltend. “You guys saw it. I can’t comment on it.”
ECU eventually recaptured the lead with 38 seconds, 74-73, on a Sampson dunk. The 9-2 run was fueled on the coattails of WSU’s futility at the free-throw line.
The ‘Cats shot 3 of 9 at the stripe in the final two minutes and 52 seconds and finished 9 of 19 (47.4 percent).
“That’s pretty much what it comes down to,” Weber State coach Randy Rahe said. “We didn’t guard very well in the first half. I think their athleticism got us a bit in the first half, but we put ourselves in position and you’ve got to take the freebies when you get them and we didn’t make them tonight.”
Paul chipped in a game-high 23 points with six assists. Kemp, who was named the CIT Tournament MVP, finished with 20 points and six rebounds. Sampson added 12 points and eight boards.
“To come into this environment — that’s a really good basketball team. They’ve been good everywhere but particularly at home in front of 10,500 people. For our team to get a W is something special for the growth of our program,” ECU coach Jeff Lebo said. “They’ve got an excellent team and I’m just proud of my team — for 40 minutes to stay involved enough to make some plays to have a chance at the end.”