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Weber State basketball clutches victory from jaws of defeat with last-minute rally at Idaho

By BRETT HEIN - Standard-Examiner | Feb 15, 2024
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Weber State's Dillon Jones (2) drives past Idaho's EJ Neal on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, in Moscow, Idaho.
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Weber State's Viljami Vartiainen (8) drives past Idaho's EJ Neal (4) on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, in Moscow, Idaho.
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Weber State's Steven Verplancken Jr. (11) drives against Idaho's Trevon Blassingame on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, in Moscow, Idaho.

Nothing seemed to go right for Weber State men’s basketball Thursday night at Idaho.

The Vandals, enjoying a resurgence in competitiveness with changes (by injury or coach decision) to its lineup had WSU’s back against the wall thanks to game-long advantages on points in the paint and at the 3-point line.

Idaho guard EJ Neal hit a pair of free throws to put the Vandals ahead 69-62 and WSU’s Dillon Jones dribbled the ball off his foot going the other way. With 1:17 left, Idaho’s win probability sat at 95.2%.

And with Weber State’s press unsuccessful in a few earlier tries, it looked like the Wildcats were cooked.

In fact, after eight first-half turnovers, Idaho had taken such good care of the ball that the Vandals had just one giveaway in nearly 19 minutes of second-half play. But WSU gave its best efforts and somehow forced Idaho into four straight turnovers over the final minute-plus.

And after struggling offensively, Weber State converted points on all four turnovers. When Dillon Jones’ final free throw of the game hit every part of the rim and fell in, the Wildcats led 70-69 with 7.6 seconds left.

Idaho’s Quinn Denker then shot a pull-up 3 off the back iron, Jones hauled down the rebound against the bigger Kyson Rose and the clock expired on an improbable WSU road victory.

“I did feel good about how hard our guys were competing,” WSU head coach Eric Duft said. “This time of the year … is about players making plays and I told our team, you deserve all the credit.

“We haven’t always handled adversity well … but tonight, we never flinched.”

Jones finished with 29 points, nine assists and six rebounds on 8-of-15 field goal shooting and 12 of 13 from the line to lead Weber State (17-9, 8-5 Big Sky) — while passing Jermaine Boyette and Jimmy DeGraffenried to move into fifth place on WSU’s career scoring list.

Dyson Koehler added 11 points, Alex Tew chipped in seven points and six rebounds, and Steven Verplancken Jr. scored seven points.

Idaho (9-15, 3-9) got 17 points and eight rebounds from a relentlessly rim-running Julius Mims. Denker scored 13 points, and Rose and Trevon Blassingame each scored 10.

Each time Weber made a push in the second half, it seemed Idaho had a better answer.

Jones swished a tough paint fadeaway to make it 55-53, but Mims answered in the paint, Jones missed a free throw (WSU was 6 of 11 at the line at that point in the half), Blassingame swished a high-arcing 3 and Mims split two defenders for a dunk. Suddenly it was 60-53 with 4:45 remaining.

But Jones dropped home a quick-pull 3, made four free throws, and dished to Blaise Threatt for a layup for a 67-62 score with 1:35 left.

After the Neal free throws and Jones turnover, Threatt got the first steal and got lucky when a block/charge call in the paint went his way. He made his free throws (69-64). Idaho continued to throw the ball high from the corners to the middle of the court, and KJ Cunningham nabbed a steal, passed it to Jones, got it back and rolled in a contested layup (69-66).

Tew nabbed the next steal on the press and Jones quickly cast up a 3. It rolled off the front of the iron where Tew tipped it in (69-68, 44.2 seconds left).

Now a one-point game, WSU played out the next Idaho possession and, late in the clock, Mims drove the ball through the paint and Tew stripped him. The ball rolled out of bounds off Mims’ leg with 15.4 left.

Jones then blew by Neal at the top of the arc and took a push at the hip as he rose to the rim. His scoop shot bounced out, but Jones put in both free throws for the win (70-69, WSU’s first lead since 41-40).

The late rally helped Weber State avoid an ugly loss that likely would have put an end to their hopes for a top-two tournament placement come March. While Idaho is clearly improved, the Wildcats were outplayed for much of the second half.

But the win instead pulled WSU closer to second as Northern Colorado (15-10, 8-4) fell in overtime at Portland State. The Vikings led by 21 early in the second half, the Bears took the lead late, PSU made free throws to go up three and Dejour Reaves buried a final-seconds 3 to get NoCo to overtime on the road. But the Vikings owned the extra period 14-4 for a big win.

WSU next goes to Eastern Washington (17-8, 11-1) at 3 p.m. MST Saturday. EWU held off Idaho State 88-82 on Thursday. Idaho State led with seven minutes left when the Eagles used a 12-2 run to regain control. Casey Jones scored 26 points for EWU.

In Sacramento, Northern Arizona’s near-WSU-killer Trent McLaughlin hit six 3s for 24 points as NAU beat Sacramento State.

IDAHO 60, WSU 47

The Weber State women missed what was likely their final opportunity to move to the middle of the conference standings in a loss to Idaho (12-12, 5-7 Big Sky).

Weber State (7-19, 4-9 Big Sky) shot 7 of 14 in the first quarter to lead 19-14. But the Wildcats shot just 10 of 38 the rest of the way. Idaho (12-12, 5-7) shot 19 of 37 in the final three quarters.

Junior guard Kendra Parra led WSU with 16 points and freshman forward Taylor Smith added 14 points. Those two shot 11 of 26, everyone else was 6 of 26.


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