OGDEN — A holiday break, the disappointment of losing a conference series to cancellation and an off-key first half led to crunch time for Weber State men's basketball, which led 56-55 in an impromptu game against Utah Valley with 3:15 left.
WSU added stops after a smooth Dontay Bassett hook and a 2-for-2 foul trip from Zahir Porter.
Dillon Jones then provided the dagger. After being blocked out of bounds with three seconds on the shot clock, Jones set a screen on the inbound play, popped to the 3-point line and took the inbound pass as a five-second count neared.
Jones raised, fired and splashed home a 3-pointer for an eight-point lead with 1:08 left and the Wildcats went on to defeat the Wolverines 70-62 on Saturday at the Dee Events Center.
"It was rebounding and getting stops," WSU senior big man Cody Carlson said. "They're really good on offense so getting them one shot and getting that rebound, it kind of shut them down and gave us the advantage."
That run was the final blow in a series of traded rallies that followed after a 30-30 first-half draw in which there were 10 ties and 12 lead changes — a choppy run when it was visible that neither team had played since at least Dec. 23.
Carlson put Weber State (4-3) up 40-36 with a ball fake on the perimeter, a drive, a Eurostep around a fouling defender and a bucket, plus a free throw, with 13 minutes left.
Jaden McClanahan, who did not play in the first half, was a second-half spark for Utah Valley. He hit a pair of 3-pointers (he was 2 of 3 from deep, the rest of the team shot 2 of 13) and scored a baseline drive to cut it to 44-43.
A Michal Kozak 3-pointer put WSU up 49-43 with 8:15 left, the six-point margin the largest for either team to that point.
McClanahan hit his second 3 and Jamison Overton converted a tough drive for a run that put UVU up 50-49 with 6:40 left.
Foul trouble was a storyline for both sides but particularly for WSU, which spent large stretches with Bassett, Carlson or Isiah Brown — or some combination of the three — sitting out. That meant 9:30 of playing time for big man David Nzekwesi, who ended UVU's big run with a 3-pointer, leading to the final stretch.
"David was big," WSU head coach Randy Rahe said. "When Dontay got back, we kind of limited him but I told him the other day how good a player I thought he is, and that his opportunity would come and you're going to be ready when it comes ... he stepped up really well."
Nzekwesi finished with five points and four rebounds.
Seikou Sisoho Jawara led Weber State with 14 points on 5 of 8 shooting, going 2 of 4 from deep in an otherwise cold shooting night (8 of 28 from 3 overall) for the Wildcats. Brown added 12 points, Carlson totaled 10 points and nine rebounds, and Porter and Bassett each scored nine points.
After Brown led WSU in scoring early in the season, Porter picked up some of the load before Sisoho Jawara began to score more, with Carlson a steady presence throughout.
"I think that's a good thing because we're showing we're well-rounded and anybody can have their night," Carlson said.
Overton and UVU tour de force Fardaws Aimaq led the Wolverines with 19 and 18 points, respectively. Overton's slashing style and Aimaq's big inside presence were a handful, especially when each scored 13 points in the first half.
Aimaq grabbed 20 rebounds, not all that more than his average. But the two leaders combined to shoot 9 of 20 from the free-throw line, torpedoing a strong effort for UVU. Blaze Nield added a 3-of-7 freebie effort, putting the Wolverines at 12 of 27 for the game.
After the weekend's series against Idaho State fell through to COVID-19 issues at ISU, Weber State is scheduled to resume conference play Jan. 7 and 9 by hosting Eastern Washington — which is itself a tentative prospect.
EWU's home series this weekend against Portland State was canceled to COVID-19 within EWU's team. On Sunday, national writer Jon Rothstein and Eagles beat writer Ryan Collingwood reported Eastern Washington will end quarantine and resume activities on Jan. 10, precluding the possibility of playing Weber State.
As of Sunday evening, nothing official had been announced about the status of the series.
"It's really disappointing but we're all thankful to be in the gym and have a weight room. Our coaches work hard to get those games rescheduled and get us as many games as possible," Carlson said. "It's a tough thing to deal with, but we're getting through it."
In a normal season, Weber would have played 13-14 games by this point in the calendar. Seven games in to this campaign, WSU is still waiting for a continuous run of competition.
"They've handled it really well. I've got an older, mature group and a good group of kids," Rahe said. " They love to ball, they love to play. Basically their life consists of going from their apartments to their gym, back to their apartments — they're not allowed to be real college students. It's hard, but those kids have made the commitment to stay safe, be diligent.
"This week, we're getting ready to play two league games, we get them all jacked up, it's league time, boom, those games are gone. Now we've got to fill in with this game. A less-mature group might not be as excited to play, but this group was ready to go."