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Weber State basketball tops Abilene Christian 77-67 on Verplancken shooting, team defense

By Brett Hein - Standard-Examiner | Nov 22, 2022
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Weber State guard Steven Verplancken Jr., right, holds the ball against Abilene Christian's Ali Abdou Dibba at the Vegas 4 event Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022, in Henderson, Nev.
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Weber State center Daniel Rouzan, left, takes awkward contact from Abilene Christian's Leonardo Bettiol at the Vegas 4 event Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022, in Henderson, Nev.
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Weber State guard Zahir Porter (0) dribbles against Abilene Christian at the Vegas 4 event Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022, in Henderson, Nev.
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Weber State guard KJ Cunningham (3) dribbles against Abilene Christian at the Vegas 4 event Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022, in Henderson, Nev.

Weber State men’s basketball was without third-year forward Dillon Jones on Tuesday for the second night of the Vegas 4 multi-team event, sitting on a decision from head coach Eric Duft. Starting center Alex Tew managed just 9 minutes before ultimately sitting most of the second half with a nagging ankle injury.

And the Wildcats got their first Division I win of the season, defeating Abilene Christian 77-67 at The Dollar Loan Center in Henderson, Nevada.

Junior guard Steven Verplancken Jr. scored a career-high 19 points, shooting 4 of 7 from the 3-point line, to lead Weber State (2-3) to the win — a double-digit victory in a game WSU entered as a seven-point underdog.

Freshman center Daniel Rouzan carried the load inside, posting 12 points and 10 rebounds.

“We’ve got a ton of new guys and not much continuity from last year, but we’re growing up,” Duft said. “Every win’s going to be precious for us with this schedule. We needed that win … we’ve just got to keep grinding away and we’ll keep getting better.”

With seven ties and 16 lead changes, the game was close throughout; neither team led by more than six points for the first 35 minutes.

That changed after Abilene Christian (2-3) helped along a WSU rally by drawing two technical fouls on taunts or excessive celebrations. Then Verplancken provided the cap to his career night.

The Dominican shooter hit 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to put Weber up 70-61 with 4:40 left. On the other side of an ACU timeout, Zahir Porter flipped in a layup on a tough drive to put his team up 11 points, finishing a 19-3 run in which WSU held ACU to one field goal in 7 1/2 minutes.

Before finding a rhythm from the field late, Weber State helped itself by drawing shooting fouls and starting 19 of 19 from the line. With a pair of misses in the final 2 minutes, WSU finished 23 of 25 from the charity stripe.

Rebounding and defense keyed the second-half push as well. WSU did better at forcing turnovers and tougher shots, and stopping ACU from a stream of cutting layups.

“Zahir Porter’s in there, he’s either deflecting the ball or getting his hands on it, doing a great job rebounding for us,” Duft said.

In the end, Weber State totaled a 34-28 advantage on points in the paint and held ACU to two offensive rebounds while grabbing eight. Rouzan pulled down five of those offensive boards for WSU, scoring immediately on four of them.

Senior guard Junior Ballard totaled 13 points for Weber State, going 8 of 8 from the foul line. Keith Dinwiddie Jr. added nine points. Dyson Koehler, who started for Jones at forward, totaled eight points, five rebounds and two assists. Porter had five points and seven rebounds, and senior guard KJ Cunningham pitched in seven points, four rebounds and three assists.

Cameron Steele was a tough matchup at forward, leading Abilene Christian with 16 points on a 4-of-7 mark from deep. Hunter Jack Madden, an Idaho transfer, added 13 points with three 3-pointers, though he only scored three points after halftime. Tobias Cameron also scored 13 points.

Weber State trailed most of the first half until the final minutes when Dinwiddie scored on a three-point play, Cunningham hit a 3-pointer, and Koehler tallied a three-point play on an offensive-rebound putback to help knot the game at halftime.

Duft said he sat Jones — who totaled four points, six rebounds and four turnovers on 0-of-5 shooting Monday against UC Riverside — due to “a basketball situation,” he said. “It doesn’t have anything to do with any behavior issues, Dillon’s a great kid.”

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