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Verplancken scores 30 but strengths fail, Weber State basketball loses 71-69 at Sacramento State

By BRETT HEIN - Standard-Examiner | Jan 11, 2024
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Weber State's Steven Verplancken Jr. shoots against Sacramento State on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024, in Sacramento, Calif.
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Weber State's Dillon Jones (2) drives against Sacramento State on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024, in Sacramento, Calif.
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Weber State's Dillon Jones (2) speaks with teammates, from left, Steven Verplancken, Dyson Koehler and Arnaud Revaz (31) on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024, in Sacramento, Calif.

Weber State men’s basketball was without Alex Tew on Thursday night in Sacramento when the starting center stayed in Ogden recovering from an illness that kept him out of practice for most of the week.

The difference was noticeable in defense and rebounding and, despite clawing all night to make up a big, early deficit, the Wildcats couldn’t get over the hump.

Sacramento State took advantage and — Zee Hamoda, especially — made the plays necessary to upset Weber State 71-69.

“They’ve got bodies, they’re big. They haven’t played very well together but they’re also all new. They were physical tonight, we didn’t respond to that very well and it was a tough night not to have Alex with their size and length inside,” WSU head coach Eric Duft said. “We tried a little bit of everything and just couldn’t quite figure it out defensively.”

Despite finishing 2 of 10 from the 3-point line, Hamoda made his two triples early and a Duncan Powell and-one put the Hornets up 24-11 with 9:23 left in the first half. A usually struggling offense was off to a hot start and one of the most turnover-prone teams in the country had yet to give the ball away.

That changed with Blaise Threatt, the WSU guard who helped key a 17-4 run over the next six minutes with the first of his five steals.

Steven Verplancken Jr. could hardly miss, scoring a career-high 30 points on a career-best six 3-pointers, shooting 11 of 13 while adding five rebounds.

His third make from distance saw the sharpshooter run back on defense with the ball midway to the hoop, capping the run and tying the game 28-28 with 3:11 left in the first frame.

But the next six minutes all but decided the game. Sacramento State (5-11, 1-2 Big Sky) went on a 12-0 run on either side of halftime, keyed by Duncan Powell controlling the paint for two buckets and Akol Mawien scoring five points on two second-chance buckets and a free throw to put the Hornets ahead 42-30 with 17:38 left.

“Yeah, that was the game. In the NFL, they talk about the middle eight minutes … we didn’t play that very well,” Duft said. “We didn’t get a good shot at the end of the half, we missed Dillon (Jones) on a high-post feed, and then you’ve got to rebound the ball to start the second half.”

Sac State won the offensive rebound battle 15-8 and second-chance points 18-8, and that was a key difference. Arnaud Revaz, who made his first career start in place of Tew, had one point, one rebound, two turnovers and four fouls in nine minutes, and backup center Handje Tamba recorded no stats but was negative-eight in the plus-minus ledger in three minutes.

“We like Arnaud and he’s going to play better. I thought he was nervous the last couple days knowing he was going to start,” Duft said. “He’s played really well for us but tonight was not his best night, obviously … being thrown in the starting lineup, your expectations and your role changes, and he didn’t respond to that great tonight. But it wasn’t for lack of effort … he’ll learn from it, he’ll grow.”

Jones tallied a perimeter steal and raced to a layup to cap a 17-7 run and pull WSU to within 49-47. His two steals moved him into second all-time at WSU and five from passing Eddie Gill for first place.

Verplancken hit a 3 for a 52-50 tally with 10:56 left, but that’s as close as Weber State (11-5, 2-1) could make it.

Hamoda stopped that run with an offensive rebound and two putback points.

Down the stretch, two Verplancken free throws made it 66-63 with 1:27 left and it appeared WSU had a chance when the Wildcats forced Sacramento State into a shot-clock violation on the return trip.

But defended by Hamoda, Jones managed his way into the paint before losing the ball out of bounds with 42 seconds left.

Still, Emil Skytta — the Hornets guard averaging 3.7 points per game this season getting more minutes Thursday without Brandon Betson, and who finished with 14 points on 6 of 9 shooting — missed a pair of free throws with 37 seconds left.

On the second miss, Hamoda got his hands on the rebound to create a loose-ball scramble which ended with the ball out of bounds, awarded to Weber State. But referees reversed the call after a video review.

In the possession that followed, and for the second time in the game, Hamoda hit a tough, turnaround jumper to beat the shot clock for a 68-63 lead with 17.5 left, effectively icing the win for the home team.

A Verplancken 3 with five seconds left kept hope alive for a miracle like last season’s at Montana, but Hamoda made two free throws with four seconds remaining.

Hamoda, a transfer wing from Utah State, finished with 14 points, five rebounds and four assists. Powell was consistent inside all game, totaling 19 points and eight rebounds. Sacramento State shot 48% from the field.

Jones finished with 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists, but tallied four turnovers to go against his recent trends.

WSU committed only 10 turnovers but several in the first half led directly to Sacramento State field goals.

Dyson Koehler’s long string of hot-shooting games hit a wall for Weber State; he was 0 of 7 from distance Thursday.

Even so, WSU shot 27 of 53 (50.9%) overall and 8 of 20 (40%) from the 3-point line. The Wildcats played well enough offensively to get the job done in a game between two of the slowest-tempo teams in the country, but couldn’t muster enough defensive stops or rebounding to make it happen.

“Our offense was really hurting our defense early because we were turning it over, we weren’t able to get back in front of them, so that’s something we’ll have to do better Saturday for sure,” Duft said.

And, the Wildcats shot just 7 of 14 from the foul line, including Viljami Vartiainen going 0 of 3 on a trip in the first half and Revaz, after being fouled during his lone rebound, going 1 of 2 with four minutes left in the game.

The result ends a run of six straight wins for Weber State, and stops WSU’s streak against Sacramento State at seven.

Weber State regroups to face Portland State (10-6, 1-2) on Saturday evening, with Tew tentatively set to rejoin the team for that game. The Vikings took a 69-63 home loss to Idaho State on Thursday night.

Elsewhere in the Big Sky, Northern Colorado got 37 points from Saint Thomas and the Bears won at Montana 98-92 in overtime, while Montana State blasted Northern Arizona 79-50 in Bozeman.


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