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Weber State squanders game-long lead in 62-61 loss to Gardner-Webb at Atlantic Slam

By BRETT HEIN - Standard-Examiner | Nov 17, 2023
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Weber State's Viljami Vartiainen (8) drives against Gardner-Webb's Brendan Mykalcio on Friday, Nov. 17, 2023, at the Atlantic Slam in Moncton, New Brunswick.
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Weber State's Dillon Jones drives the floor against Gardner-Webb on Friday, Nov. 17, 2023, at the Atlantic Slam in Moncton, New Brunswick.
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Weber State's Steven Verplancken Jr. (11) picks up the ball against Gardner-Webb's DQ Nicholas (4) on Friday, Nov. 17, 2023, at the Atlantic Slam in Moncton, New Brunswick.

Weber State men’s basketball began its opener at the Atlantic Slam well enough.

The Wildcats were limiting Gardner-Webb’s easy looks and led by 12 points in the first half. But GW guard Julien Soumaoro led the Bulldogs on a slow march that culminated when his team went up by one point with 17 seconds left — its first lead in 34 game minutes.

Gardner-Webb traded WSU free-throw trips for made field goals and eventually got over the hump, claiming a 62-61 victory over Weber State on Friday evening at the Avenir Centre in Moncton, New Brunswick.

“Certainly not our best performance tonight. We were off on both ends of the court,” WSU head coach Eric Duft said. “Didn’t make the plays we needed to on either end that you have to make to win.”

Gardner-Webb (2-2) overcame a putrid 4-of-13 day at the free-throw line — while Weber State (2-1) shot 24 of 29 — with a torrid 15-of-23 shooting performance from the field in the second half.

Soumaoro scored 27 points on 10-of-13 shooting, including making five of his team’s six 3-pointers. Caleb Robinson added 16 points and seven rebounds.

Dillon Jones led Weber State with 24 points and, at the time of the game’s end, nine rebounds — though a review is likely to uncover boards not statistically recorded during the game. Freshman Viljami Vartiainen added 10 points and senior guard KJ Cunningham had nine. Center Alex Tew added seven points, all on first-half free throws.

“You play these games to challenge yourself and so we will get back at it tomorrow night and see if we can play better,” Duft said.

A Vartiainen floater and a Jones drive put Weber State up 41-34 with 13:53 left, but the Wildcats left several possessions in a string of Gardner-Webb turnovers unconverted during the stretch.

Soumaoro officially started the Bulldogs’ slow climb back with a 3-pointer, dished and assisted a score in the paint, drove for a bucket and got Robinson involved in a run to tie the game 43-43.

Two of several missed Gardner-Webb free throws kept the Bulldogs from taking the lead there.

Jones scored eight of WSU’s next 10 points, with six of those coming at the free-throw line, to keep WSU in the lead 57-52 with 2:24 left.

But GW made shots and Weber didn’t. While the Wildcats could only manage a 6-of-17 mark from the field in the second half (including 0 of 8 from deep), the Bulldogs kept hitting.

Darryl Simmons II knocked down a 3-pointer leaning off-balance to his right to beat the shot clock, then Soumaoro put in his final 3 with 56 seconds left to cut Weber’s lead to 59-58.

Weber’s possessions saw Jones get a crucial steal only to see a 3-pointer rim out, then get blocked from behind by Brendan Mykalcio to start a transition run-out. That was finished by Robinson to give GW a 60-59 lead with 17 seconds left.

Jones drove the ball and drew yet another foul with 12 seconds left, and made his free throws (he was 11 of 14) to restore Weber State to a 61-60 lead.

But in an action sequence near the top of the key, WSU’s Tew got sucked too far up the paint defensively and Simmons dished to a backdooring Mykalcio on the baseline for a layup with 4.8 seconds remaining.

Vartiainen’s 3 at the buzzer then hit back iron, and the Bulldogs celebrated.

Soumaoro and Robinson shot 18 of 24 from the field, while all other Gardner-Webb players were 8 of 22.

Verplancken, Tew and Dyson Koehler combined to shoot 3 of 16.

Blaise Threatt provided an early spark, helping WSU break out of going scoreless for the game’s first five minutes with a drive-and-kick to Jones for a 3. Threatt had three early assists and a driving layup in the run that put WSU up 31-19 but played sparingly from there, saddled with foul trouble.

WSU next plays Yale at 4 p.m. MST Saturday.


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