Wildcats scratch out win in Bozeman

Feb 16 2012 - 12:07am

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(MIKE GREENER/The Associated Press)
Montana State center Mohamed Fall drives around Weber State center Kyle Tresnak in Bozeman, Mont., on Wednesday. The Wildcats won 79-70 to improve to 13-1 in Big Sky Conference play.
(MIKE GREENER/The Associated Press)
Montana State center Mohamed Fall drives around Weber State center Kyle Tresnak in Bozeman, Mont., on Wednesday. The Wildcats won 79-70 to improve to 13-1 in Big Sky Conference play.

BOZEMAN, Mont. -- Foul trouble and a fierce Bobcats rally turned a comfortable halftime lead into an absolute battle on the road for the Wildcats.

Byron Fulton tied his career high with 17 points off the bench on 7-of-10 shooting as Weber State held on for a 79-70 victory over Montana State on Wednesday at Worthington Arena.

Junior guards Damian Lillard and Scott Bamforth scored 17 and 15 points, respectively, despite spending long stretches of the second half on the bench, and sophomore center Kyle Tresnak added 14 points for the Wildcats.

Weber State (21-4, 13-1 Big Sky) was up by 18 and outrebounding Montana State (11-14, 6-8) by eight boards at halftime, but almost as soon as the half began, the Wildcats found themselves in foul trouble.

Bamforth picked up his third foul just nine seconds in and it snowballed from there.

"I told my staff I'm not sure I've ever been in that kind of foul trouble all at once. It just kind of happened quick," Weber State coach Randy Rahe said. "A lot of it had to do with Montana State. They got aggressive, they got us in foul trouble."

MSU sophomore forward Shawn Reid attacked, leading the Bobcats with 11 points in a 16-0 run that cut Weber State's lead to 48-46 with 13:16 remaining. Reid finished with a career-high 31 points.

"We let them get their confidence back up, first of all -- let them force a few turnovers and get their shots to fall," Lillard said. "Once they got their confidence, they got aggressive. We started to get kind of tentative and they got the game going their way."

Until Weber State's bench answered, two sophomores and a freshman helping Weber State maintain its first-place standing in the Big Sky Conference, neck and neck with Montana with two games to play.

Sophomore guard Jordan Richardson stopped MSU's charge with a 3. Fulton added a bucket, Richardson stole the ball and fed freshman guard Gelaun Wheelwright for a layup and Fulton hit another trey and jumper and in quick order, Weber State was back out to a 12-point advantage.

"I was really proud of (Fulton, Richardson and Wheelwright)," Rahe said. "It's easy to get in that situation and be scared, but not one of those kids was afraid of the moment. The moment was, we needed them, we needed to make some plays and they stepped up. They believed in themselves and they believed in each other."

From there, the Wildcats clawed to the end of the game short-handed to win their fifth straight and 15th in their last 16 games.

"Guys came up big," Lillard said. "Byron stepped up for us and basically took the game over. Jordan hit a big 3 when the game was cut to two and got it back up to five. It takes a lot to be able to step into a shot like that because if he misses, they can go down and take the lead or tie the game, so that was a big shot. Gelaun, just getting hands on the ball, pushing the ball in transition and making plays, he stepped up big for us.

"It was a team effort, but with all the fouls being called, those three really changed the game."

Fulton reached a season-high for the second straight game and double figures for the fourth in a row.

While Montana State made its charge, Weber State was trying to regroup, he said.

"We can't panic," Fulton said. "We've got to pretty much man up. We've all got together in the huddle, we said we're fine. They made their run, it's time to make our run."

Fulton hit four of his first five shots of the game, combining with Lillard for 14 consecutive WSU points as the Wildcats built a 42-24 lead at the half.

Lillard is now tied with Oakland (Mich.) player Reggie Hamilton for the NCAA scoring lead (24.8 ppg).

Montana State, playing without leading scorer Xavier Blount (11.7 points per game), lost its sixth straight. Blount was injured Sunday in a bar room brawl and is finished for the season.

Mohamed Fall had 13 points for the Bobcats, who turned a 20-12 first-half rebounding deficit into a 30-29 advantage for the game.

WSU steps out of Big Sky Conference play Saturday for a 6 p.m. Bracketbusters game against UT Arlington at the Dee Events Center.

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