First of all, I’m really proud of our guys. We got off, obviously, to a not very good start. I think they were just excited to play, and we were kind of backing up on our heels a little bit, and you can’t do that against a team like Eastern Washington. —Weber State head coach Randy Rahe
OGDEN — Although the holiday season is officially coming to a close, the Eastern Washington Eagles still had one last gift to give to the Weber State Wildcats Thursday night at the Dee Events Center.
Eastern Washington (5-7, 0-1) opened the game on a 10-0 run and frustrated the Wildcats to take an early lead, but Weber State (4-5, 1-0) wouldn’t go down without a fight. The Wildcats found some rhythm, battled back and finished strong to outlast the Eagles, 74-67, and pick up their first conference win of the season.
“First of all, I’m really proud of our guys. We got off, obviously, to a not very good start,” Weber State head coach Randy Rahe said. “I think they were just excited to play, and we were kind of backing up on our heels a little bit, and you can’t do that against a team like Eastern Washington.”
The purple and white struggled early but eventually got up on the board courtesy of sophomore forward Joel Bolomboy’s two free throws. The home team finally picked up its intensity and fought to cut Eastern Washington’s lead to three off a Royce Williams layup with 7:11 remaining in the half.
“We couldn’t quit; we just kept fighting,” Bolomboy said after the game. “We knew it was early in the game and we didn’t start off the way we wanted to, but we just got to keep fighting.”
Sophomore guard Tyler Harvey eventually put a stop to the ’Cats run as he drilled a pull-up jumper to put the Eagles back up by five. Harvey had an especially impressive first half as he torched the Wildcats for 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting, including 3-of-4 from downtown, to spark Eastern Washington.
“Tyler Harvey, obviously, is the real deal. He is a very good player,” said Rahe of Harvey’s first-half performance. “We made an adjustment and we decided to deny him the ball. We put Jeremy Senglin on him and we just told him, ‘Don’t let him catch,’ and Jeremy did a really good job. I think when you do that, it screws with a guy's rhythm, and I thought it was a really good job by Jeremy.”
The Wildcats then took complete control of the game as they went on a 23-9 run over the final nine minutes of the first half to take a 37-33 lead at the break.
“That (run) was really important,” Senglin said of the ’Cats' 23-9 run to close out the first half. “In any game, to finish the first half like that, that just brings momentum to the second half, so that was really big.”
After matching the Eagles with a few baskets to begin the second half, the Wildcats went on to score 12 of the game’s next 18 points as freshman guard Richaud Gittens buried a 3-pointer to open up a comfortable 10-point cushion with 14:00 left in the game.
Bolomboy and true freshman Senglin found their stride in the second half as they combined for 17 second-half points and 15 total rebounds to lead the home team in the victory.
“I thought Joel had some really big rebounds down the stretch, and he also made those two free throws, which were absolutely huge,” Rahe said of his younger players’ performances. “I thought Jeremy played with a lot of poise. I thought he played really well tonight. He’s got some confidence going, he’s a good shooter and he’s just got a good feel for the game. I was pleased with all the young kids that played tonight.”
Eastern Washington managed to get to the charity stripe and drill its open shots to trim the ’Cats' lead back to four, but WSU got a tip-in from Kyle Tresnak and a trey from Jordan Richardson to put the score at 69-60 with under 4:00 remaining.
Kelly Parker and Harvey tried to get the Eagles back in the game, but it was too little too late as the Wildcats held on to secure the victory.
Weber State will continue Big Sky play Saturday night as the Wildcats tip-off against the Portland State Vikings (5-5, 0-1) at 7 p.m. at the Dee Events Center.
Ryan Love is a full-time student at the University of Utah studying communications and has been a part-time sports reporter and scoreboarder for the Deseret News since Oct. 2012.
Follow him on Twitter @RLove7724