Byron Fulton had every excuse to come off the bench rusty.
Instead, he was ready.
When foul trouble plagued Weber State's starting post players Saturday in Grand Forks, N.D., the senior forward from Phoenix, Ariz., became the unexpected star of the game.
Fulton scored 10 points and grabbed three rebounds to provide a spark in 14 minutes off the bench that were tremendously important, 'Cats coach Randy Rahe told Weber State broadcaster Carl Arky after Weber State defeated North Dakota 72-60.
"(Fulton) hasn't been getting a lot of time, but in practice, he works as hard and he's as good a leader as anybody we have. It's a great testament that he's always ready; no matter what the situation, he's going to come in and help you," Rahe said. "His first half was huge. We don't win the game without him."
Fulton hadn't played more than six minutes against any Division I opponent this season and hadn't played more than two in his last three appearance. In fact, the only points he's scored this year were nine points in Weber State's 71-point blowout of non-Division I Saint Katherine's College.
When called on Saturday afternoon, Fulton went 4 of 5 from the field, hitting 2 of 3 from beyond 3-point range.
"I'm so proud of him and so happy for him because it's been a long time coming for him," Rahe said.
Fulton averaged 7.0 points, 3.5 rebounds in 19.0 minutes per game while shooting .480 from 3-point range when he earned the Big Sky Conference freshman of the year award in 2010-11. He averaged 7.2 points and 4.3 rebounds in 20.0 minutes per game as a sophomore, but injuries and roster depth have cut into his playing time since.
The 6-foot-7 forward has remained upbeat since then -- he was one of the stars of Weber State's famous -- infamous? -- "Harlem Shake" video on YouTube last season.
Fulton says he hasn't lost his confidence.
"No, you've always got to keep your confidence, no matter what's going bad for you, you're not playing a lot or not," he said. "Confidence is the No. 1 thing that can determine whether or not a player can go through a grind."
Other players may have quit or transferred after seeing their playing time diminish as Fulton has.
"I can't do that," he said. "My parents won't let me, my teammates won't let me. I love these guys, I couldn't quit on them for nothing."
Half the team came to watch Fulton's postgame radio interview with Arky.
"They got to mess with me because I always do it to them," Fulton joked.
"I'm probably the team clown."
Fulton wasn't the only senior to provide a lift to the Wildcats.
After coming off the bench for the past three games, senior guard Jordan Richardson scored a season-high 16 points and hit 4 of 5 from 3-point range in his return to the starting lineup. He also had four assists and three rebounds for the Wildcats.
"He handled coming off the bench for a couple of games really well. He handled it with a lot of maturity and if you do that, good things are going to happen," Rahe said. "We knew it was time to put him back in the starting lineup. He was ready for it. We actually like Richaud (Gittens) coming off the bench with some energy, but (Richardson's) mindset was really good and he had a big impact on both ends of the floor."
Senior center James Hajek was cleared to play Saturday after suffering a dislocated knee prior to the season, but did not see any action against North Dakota.
Weber State will play four consecutive home games now, with in-state rival Southern Utah next up. SUU won't be in town until Saturday, but the Wildcats will have three games the following week versus Idaho State, Montana State and Montana.
Contact reporter Roy Burton at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @RoyBurtonSE.