OGDEN — Through 20 minutes, Weber State’s usual game plan to combat Portland State’s frenetic, pressure-packed scheme was working.
The Wildcats were breaking the Vikings’ press crisply, shot 51.4% in the opening half, outscored PSU 14-7 on fast-break points by creating layups and dunks, and turned it over only six times.
The two teams held the lead for nearly equal amounts in the first half and PSU’s 46-42 halftime lead was largely a function of their 6-1 advantage from the 3-point line.
Then the second half started and Portland State flipped the game on its head.
The Vikings ripped 29 points in the first eight minutes of the second frame, sprinting to a 15-point lead that was, despite a spirited comeback, ultimately too much for Weber State to overcome and PSU took an 89-83 decision Saturday at the Dee Events Center.
“We just lost our composure there for a few minutes. They’re obviously an athletic team and know how to pressure you,” WSU freshman center Tim Fuller said. “We did a good job chipping away at that deficit later on in the game ... but we lost our composure.”
After an early back and forth, Lamar Hamrick hit his fourth 3-pointer of the game to put the Vikings up 60-51, setting up the coming six-minute onslaught in which WSU’s otherwise good rebounding night was sullied and in which the Wildcats (11-17, 7-10 Big Sky) suddenly could not handle full-court pressure.
Rashaad Goolsby skied for a rim-rocking putback dunk, Ian Burke hit a 3, Alonzo Walker took his turn bending the rim on a putback jam and, after a pair of Sal Nuhu layups, Goolsby took another turn hitting the highlight reel with a tip dunk.
That made it 77-62 with 10:30 left and it looked as though Portland State (16-14, 10-8) might race to a ghastly triple-digit score.
WSU head coach Randy Rahe observed another factor in the out-of-halftime blitz.
“We weren’t moving very well. We have three guys who it takes a while to get loose because of their bodies right now and it wasn’t very good,” Rahe said. “We were a step slow on everything. We couldn’t guard the ball, they just zipped around us ... against that team, it’s really glaring because they can take advantage of it, they’re so athletic and quick and fast.”
But the Wildcats did get off the mat. For the game, WSU outrebounded PSU 42-37 and held the Vikings below their usual average for offensive rebounds. That effort was spurred by sophomore big man Dima Zdor, who pulled down a career-high 18 rebounds in 25 minutes.
Offensively, Cody John immediately led the push to get Weber back in the game, knocking down a 3, getting three more the old-fashioned way, leading a break that ended in Michal Kozak throwing an alley-oop to Fuller for a dunk, and John getting a transition layup for a 10-2 run, cutting it to 79-72.
“Basketball is a game of runs and we knew there would be a lot of stuff going on,” Fuller said. “In one of those timeouts in the second half we just pulled together and said ‘we’ve really got to cut off those rebounds’ and we did a good job after that.”
With the defense racking up stops, a Kozak 3 and a steal and layup from Kham Davis spurred a smaller 7-2 run and suddenly Weber trailed only 83-79 with 4:06 left.
With 1:55 left, WSU appeared to get the final break it needed when Kozak blocked Goolsby and Zdor pulled the rebound, but Sal Nuhu quickly picked off Zdor’s pass for a layup to make it 85-79.
Jerrick Harding, who sat for six minutes down the stretch in hopes of re-energizing his ailing legs, re-entered for the final five minutes. Twice, he beat defenders off the dribble and converted layups to make it 85-83 with 49 seconds left.
Goolsby drew a foul on Zdor at the other end during a shot attempt in which it appeared he hit Zdor in the face, then made his free throws to put PSU back up four.
Weber’s final breath was exhaled when Harding missed on a tough drive through contact and Zdor couldn’t convert a putback attempt with 11 seconds left.
“We’ve got a couple guys running on fumes out there who can’t really move very well, and they’re throwing their heart and soul out on the court to try and give us a chance to win,” Rahe said. “But we just came up a couple plays short.”
Harding led all scorers with 20 points, in the process passing Eastern Washington’s Bogdan Bliznyuk for third place on the Big Sky’s all-time career scoring list. John finished with 19 points, six rebounds and four assists. Fuller added 14 points and two blocks, and Davis pitched in 12 points and two steals.
Portland State hammered Weber from all angles, but it was Goolsby’s high-flying act that led the Vikings with 18 points and nine rebounds. Holland Woods added 17 points and seven assists, Hamrick scored 16 points, Nuhu 14 and Walker 10.
The loss virtually eliminates WSU from contention to vie for a first-round conference tournament bye.
Weber State returns to the floor Monday to celebrate senior night against Idaho State (6-20, 3-14) before finishing the season with a road trip to Idaho (Thursday) and Eastern Washington (Saturday).
“It’s a tough loss tonight because we did chip away that deficit and it’s disappointing to come up short. But we recognize there’s still a lot of basketball left of play,” Fuller said. “We’re ready to regroup and get ready for Monday.”