The Wildcats are just one step away from winning the CollegeInsider.com Tournament championship.
Senior point guard Jordan Richardson sank two free throws with 17.8 seconds remaining and Weber State forced Northern Iowa into a contested 3 at the buzzer that came up short to give the Wildcats a 59-56 victory in a CIT semifinal on Saturday in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
In its first game on the road in the CIT, Weber State pulled out a hard-fought victory at the McLeod Center, where the Panthers had beaten Top 25 teams Creighton, Saint Mary's and NCAA Tournament Final Four-bound Wichita State. WSU won for the 30th time this season, extending its school and Big Sky Conference single-season record.
Junior forward Davion Berry scored a team-high 15 points for the Wildcats (30-6), who will host East Carolina (22-12) in the tournament title game Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the Dee Events Center.
Senior forward Frank "Mook" Otis turned in a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds for WSU and fellow senior Scott Bamforth added 14 points to help keep their college careers alive for one more game.
The Panthers didn't make it easy.
Weber State shot an uncharacteristic 24.0 percent in the second half, but won with defense.
The Wildcats limited the Panthers to just three points over the final seven minutes, but one of the key stops of the game came against an unguarded player; senior forward Jake Koch missed two free throws with Northern Iowa trailing by three with four seconds to go.
WSU controlled the rebound but Berry missed the front end of a one-and-one opportunity to give the Panthers the ball with three seconds left.
Otis knocked away one inbounds pass but UNI kept possession, giving the Panthers one more try to tie with 1.5 seconds to go. Koch got the inbounds pass on the right side of the arc, but his turnaround 3 wasn't close.
"I just told the guys there are two reasons that we won," Weber State coach Randy Rahe said in a postgame radio interview. "I thought we were the tougher team and I thought we played harder."
WSU, the top field goal percentage and second-ranked 3-point percentage team in the nation, shot just 39.6 percent overall and went 1 of 11 from beyond the arc in the second half.
The Wildcats, who are just as good at preventing 3s as they normally are at shooting them, held the Panthers to 3 of 18 from 3-point range, which also included a dismal 0 for 9 second half.
Sophomore forward Seth Tuttle scored a game-high 16 points, sophomore guard Deon Mitchell added 11 and senior guard Marc Sonnen had 10 for Northern Iowa. UNI's leading scorer for the season, second-team all-Missouri Valley Conference honoree Anthony James, finished with just four points. Koch had seven points and went 0 for 6 from deep after missing the final shot.
WSU won the game but lost a player. Freshman forward Joel Bolomboy suffered a possible separated shoulder in the first half and was not able to return during the game; his condition will be evaluated.
Tickets for the CIT championship game are available at WeberStateTickets.com. Cost is $10 for adults, $5 for seniors and youth.