FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — The Lumberjacks gathered at midcourt in stunned silence, mourning a missed opportunity for a major upset on Saturday afternoon.
In the locker room under the bleachers at the renovated Walkup Skydome, the Wildcats celebrated a game they lost, then somehow won.
Davion Berry tied his career high with 25 points, Scott Bamforth added 20 and Weber State won its ninth straight game with an improbable 80-78 overtime victory over Northern Arizona The streak was in serious jeopardy with NAU up by seven points with 1:08 to remaining in a what had been disastrous second half for Weber State to that point.
The Wildcats (22-5, 16-2 Big Sky), the top shooting team in the country, had lost their touch — starting the half by missing 11 of their first 13 attempts.
They finished by slowly closing the gap on a determined Northern Arizona team, starting with Gelaun Wheelwright’s 3-pointer with 60 seconds to go and a series of aggressive drives to the basket by Berry, who hit a layup and made four free throws in the final minute.
After a controversial offensive foul called on NAU center Max Jacobsen, who finished with 17 points, Berry sank two free throws with 11 seconds to go to tie it at 69-all and send it to overtime.
Lumberjacks guard Gabe Rogers scored 25 points on Senior Day, but his floater at the buzzer missed the mark and when Bamforth opened the overtime period with a quick 3-pointer, all the momentum belonged to Weber State.
“I felt like it was ours once we fought and got it to overtime,” Bamforth said. “Right at the jump ball, I just wanted to make a play to we can get some momentum going.”
The Wildcats believe they won the game long before their miracle comeback on Saturday.
“Honestly, things like that don’t happen to teams that don’t work hard,” Bamforth said. “We might have won that game back in the summer when we were all running sprints and everybody’s fighting, trying to get better. We didn’t win that game tonight. We did, but we won it back in the past. It might have been how hard we practiced back in October. We earned that win. We really did.”
Seventh-year Weber State coach Randy Rahe said it might have been during a three-hour practice in October. Or in the summer when they tried to learn a new defensive philosophy. Or in November when the Wildcats lost a game and Rahe got after them for two straight days but they refused to splinter, he said.
“The kids just wouldn’t quit. They kept believing and they kept saying we can find a way. We had great leadership, from Scott, from Dev, from all the guys. They kept saying it in the huddles. We’ll find a way and get a break. That’s really what it comes down to,” Rahe said.
“I do believe in a little bit of good karma now and then. When you invest into something as much as these guys have invested in to each other, the way they’ve invested into our program, they’ve bought into our culture and our system and bought into each other as teammates. When you do that and you work hard every single day, which this group does, things like tonight happen. … There’s some luck involved but when you buy into that stuff, good things happen for you.”
Not much was falling for Weber State in the second half except for Bamforth’s 3s.
Facing Northern Arizona’s zone defense, the Wildcats were passive on offense, Rahe said, which carried over to their defense as Rogers, the second-leading scorer in the Big Sky, got hot.
Berry said the Wildcats refused to believe they could lose.
“We just grind. We’re family. We went through some adversity, but at the same time, we always go through adversity and the toughest teams come out on top. We took it to them,” he said. “We kept grinding. Scott carried us for a stretch that we needed … and they told me to keep going to the basket, which I wasn’t doing the whole game.”
Berry got to the basket, and to the line, as Weber State salvaged the 10th straight victory in their series with the Lumberjacks (11-18, 8-10 Big Sky).
Sophomore guard Gelaun Wheelwright hit a 3 and a pair of free throws in the final minute to finish with 10 points for Weber State, freshman forward Joel Bolomboy had nine points and seven rebounds and junior center Kyle Tresnak grabbed a huge offensive rebound at the end of overtime after struggling through the game with foul trouble and finishing with just four points.
Junior forward Byron Fulton, who hadn’t played recently, stepped in with Bolomboy and Tresnak in foul trouble and played 12 minutes, scoring two points and grabbing three rebounds.
Freshman guard DeWayne Russell scored 17 points for the Lumberjacks and senior point guard Stallon Saldivar, a Salt Lake City native, had five points, nine rebounds and four assists.
When it was over, first-year Northern Arizona coach Jack Murphy had to regret getting a technical with 4:57 that sent Bamforth to the free throw line for a pair of freebies — two points that might have been the difference at the end of the game. The Lumberjacks missed an opportunity to help themselves reach the Big Sky Tournament, while the second-place Wildcats added more pressure on a wounded Montana team in the title chase.
Weber State finishes the Big Sky regular season with two games at home against Portland State and Eastern Washington this week.