Weber State basketball: Wildcats tough out season-opening win over Utah State

Friday , November 10, 2017 - 6:38 PM

MATT HERP/Standard-Examiner

Weber State's Zach Braxton (44) dunks the ball during the first half of play against Utah State University on Friday, Nov. 10, 2017, at Dee Events Center in Ogden.

BRETT HEIN, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — A crushing block, a thunderous dunk and a roaring crowd punctuated Weber State’s season opener Friday night at the Dee Events Center.

Trailing by four with 30 seconds left, Utah State’s DeAngelo Isby drove the lane and met Zach Braxton, who turned away his hopeful attempt as the Aggies gasped for a chance.

Dusty Baker pulled down the block, then found a hustling Braxton up court. The big man took one dribble and rocked the rim with a two-handed slam to send most of the 8,592 fans into a frenzy, and Weber State defeated the Aggies 65-59.

“It was a really cool moment. We had a ton fans out there tonight,” Braxton said. “In that moment, it kind of all bottle-necked and popped the cap off. It was pretty cool.”

Braxton’s effort — 18 points on 9 of 11 shooting, eight rebounds, three blocks and two steals — keyed the Wildcats on both ends in a battle that was expectedly tight.

“I thought Zach was a man tonight,” WSU head coach Randy Rahe said. “He’s been playing well. He had another good offseason, like he always does ... I thought he had a great all-around game.”

Utah State slowly erased an early 12-2 deficit before Weber State took a 27-24 lead into halftime. The Wildcats shot 3 of 13 from deep in the first half.

Brekkott Chapman and Ryan Richardson knocked down triples to open the second half, leading the Wildcats to a 42-35 lead with 11:31 left.

Richardson — who finished with a game-high 20 points and knocked down four 3-pointers — returned Weber State to its largest lead at 53-43 with 6:12 left by converting three free-throws when fouled by Isby on a deep attempt.

Utah State cut the deficit to four after a pair of Wildcat turnovers in the backcourt. But Jerrick Harding, who started 0 of 8 from the field, converted a drive while fouled.

“He had a tough night, but I don’t worry about him,” Rahe said of the sophomore left-hander. “I had a pretty good feeling that when we needed to get a bucket, a big one, he was going to find a way to get one.”

On the next possession, Harding pulled down a long rebound and beat everyone down the floor for a layup to give the Wildcats the cushion they needed — up six with 2:30 left.

Sam Merrill, who prepped at Bountiful High, struggled from the field for the Aggies. He and fellow sophomore Koby McEwen combined to shoot 5 of 19 from the floor.

USU head coach Tim Duryea said he thought his team played nervous and tight — but not Merrill and Davis High product Abel Porter, who saw 11 minutes as McEwen struggled with foul trouble.

“Abel was actually, for a guy who hadn’t gotten to play, I thought he was as composed and as clear-headed as anybody that played in the game. I thought he did a tremendous job,” Duryea said. “His poise was probably the best we had on our team.”

He contributed Merrill’s struggles to simply missing shots, not to poise.

Alex Dargenton led Utah State with 12 points.

Chapman added 10 points and two blocks for Weber State while Harding added eight. Michal Kozak, who started at forward, pulled down six rebounds.

Weber State never trailed in the contest.

The Wildcats host West Coast Baptist on Tuesday, Nov. 14, before facing Iona to open The Islands of the Bahamas Classic on Friday.

TWO IN A ROW

The win marked the first time since 1998-99 that Weber State defeated Utah State twice in a row. The Wildcats now lead the all-time series in Ogden 17-16.

CHAPMAN’S RETURN

Roy native Brekkott Chapman played his first Division-I basketball game in 603 days since transferring from Utah and sitting out the required year last season. He enjoyed a hearty cheer during starting lineup introductions and knocked down a pair of 3-pointers.

FRESH FACES

With injuries to Cody John and Jordan Dallas — the former being out for the season with a back injury — Weber State played three true freshmen in an eight-man rotation.

Michal Kozak started, played 33 minutes and scored two points with his six rebounds. Trevon Ary-Turner played 12 minutes, scoring two points, and Ricky Doc Nelson played 10 minutes.

AINGE IN THE HOUSE

Boston Celtics general manager and former BYU and NBA great Danny Ainge sat front row Friday to watch his son Crew, who played backup guard for the Aggies. Crew Ainge played five minutes and totaled one rebound.

AROUND THE BIG SKY

E. WASHINGTON 82, WALLA WALLA 61: Eastern Washington took care of business against an NAIA foe to open its season. The Eagles shot a cold 29 percent from the 3-point line and were led by Jesse Hunt and Ty Gibson, who each scored 11.

COLORADO 66, NORTHERN COLORADO 51: Andre Spight and Anthony Johnson combined to shoot 3 of 26 from deep as the Bears couldn’t keep up at Pac-12 Colorado.

ARIZONA 101, NORTHERN ARIZONA 67: NAU got 11 each from Isaiah Thomas and Chris Bowling, but couldn’t stop No. 3 Arizona. Allonzo Trier scored 32 for Arizona.

MONTANA STATE 89, OMAHA 80 (OT): Harald Frey scored 29 points and Tyler Hall added 19 as Montana State outlasted Omaha in Bozeman.

MONTANA 72, WHITWORTH 60: Montana led by three at halftime and struggled to put away Division-III opponent Whitworth University. Ahmaad Rorie led the Griz with 21 points.

NORTH DAKOTA 83, TROY 80: Geno Crandall poured in 41 points to lead North Dakota to the come-from-behind victory.

COLORADO STATE 72, SACRAMENTO STATE 61: Justin Strings totaled 19 points and 11 rebounds, but Sacramento State couldn’t get over the hump at CSU.

OREGON STATE 99, SOUTHERN UTAH 82: SUU scored 54 points in the second half, but it wasn’t enough to stage a comeback at Oregon State. Jadon Cohee led the T-Birds with 21 points.

ARIZONA STATE 94, IDAHO STATE 74: Jacob McCord scored 18 points but Idaho State couldn’t recover from a 51-33 halftime deficit.

NEVADA 88, IDAHO 64: Idaho couldn’t keep up with the Wolf Pack. Brayon Blake scored 17 points and Vic Sanders had 14.