OGDEN — Eastern Washington had pulled within one point with six minutes remaining Saturday.
An irregular, slowed-down pace had complicated Weber State’s up-tempo scheme. The Eagles wanted to play tortoise to the Wildcats’ hare. But Scott Bamforth wasn’t about to lose his final game at the Dee Events Center.
After Eastern Washington freshman Venky Jois flushed a two-handed dunk to cut the lead to 51-50 (no pun intended to Van Halen), Bamforth, positioned on the wing, buried a 3-pointer with 5:52 remaining. The senior delivered the next seven points and eventually, with 57 seconds left, inserted the dagger with his signature stepback to finish a winner, 65-57.
“Well they switched out. I came off a pin down and someone set a good screen so the big guy had to come out on me,” Bamforth said. “I just felt like I needed to make a play. We kind of got stagnant. It was a big time in the game. I felt like I could get to that shot and knock it down.”
Bamforth finished with a game-high 18 points, pushing him to 12th all time in points scored in school history, on 7-of-10 shooting with three treys. Frank “Mook” Otis, the other senior, corralled 11 rebound in his home finale.
“I’m really proud of our two seniors — Scottie and Mook. I thought both of them were absolutely huge for us tonight,” WSU coach Randy Rahe said. “That’s really what you hope for on a senior night. We don’t win that game without either one of them.”
With the game finally in hand, the two exited to a welcoming standing ovation. For Otis, who has been plagued with injuries throughout his career, it couldn’t have been more special.
“This is truly a blessing because I’ve been through some injuries,” Otis said. “I personally haven’t been able to play the way I want to play, but I’ve been able to do what I can do to help my team. It’s truly a blessing for God to be able to give me a chance to enjoy this final season of college with my teammates.”
It marked the second consecutive season without a Big Sky home loss. Because both Montana and Montana State won Saturday, the Big Sky Tournament will take place in Missoula, Mont., next weekend. The Wildcats play Northern Arizona in the first round at 3 p.m. Thursday.
Weber State entered Saturday as statistically the best shooting team in the country — leading the nation in both field goal and 3-point percentage. Eastern Washington knew it couldn’t match the Wildcats’ athleticism. It implemented a patient offense, typically vacuuming the entire shot clock per possession.
“It’s hard to make runs on them because we score a basket and then they hold the ball for 20 seconds,” Bamforth explained. “So, we’re just standing there on D and then they shoot it and then we go score a basket and then they hold the ball for 30 more seconds. They did a good job of trying to slow us down.”
Out of rhythm, the Wildcats shot 37.9 percent in the first half and finished 21 of 52 overall and 6 of 15 from distance.
“Eastern came in with a game plan to cut the game in half and slow it down,” Rahe said. “To be honest I’ve been waiting for a team to throw that at us. They did it tonight — it was a good game plan. It kept them in the game.
“We wanted to attack when we got stops, but I thought we were playing too frantic to try and score,” Rahe continued. “We missed a lot of open shots. But the way the game was being played it made us speed up a little bit.”
The Eagles, whose only lead occurred at 2-0 with 19:46 remaining in the first half, continued to hover at an uncomfortably close margin behind Tyler Harvey. The freshman appeared innocent, only averaging slightly above six points per game. However, he had scored 23, 22, 21 and 17 points in the previous four games.
Harvey finished with 17 points (four 3-pointers) and eight rebounds. And with 6:28, he drilled a corner 3 ball to pull his team within three, 51-48, right before Jois’ dunk.
“He didn’t play much earlier in the season, so that’s why his average is down. But he had really been starting to heat it up,” Rahe said. “So, he was one of the guys we really wanted to focus on and he still got 17. He’s a good player. He’s got a good future.”
But with the game on the line on the night he was honored as one of the top players in program history — Bamforth wasn’t going to lose.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @tphibbsami
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company