RENO, Nev. — Late game heroics from multiple Wildcat players helped lift Weber State to a 78-74 over the Portland State Vikings Thursday afternoon in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky Championships.
First it was Jeremy Senglin, who finished a tough layup through contact to give WSU a 75-74 lead with less than a minute to play. Then it was Joel Bolomboy on the defensive end, with a block on De’Sean Parsons to maintain the lead.
“It was a good read and a good shot,” Senglin said of the lay-in that put Weber ahead. “My teammates gave me that lane to get open, so I’ve got to give it to them.”
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The most important play, however, may have come from freshman guard McKay Cannon.
With the Wildcats clinging to that one-point lead, the Vikings went low to senior forward Cameron Forte, who led all scorers in the game with 25 points.
On the left block with 17 seconds left, Forte started bumping and backing with his head turned inside when Cannon quickly double-teamed the Georgia transfer and came away with a steal.
“We did not want him to beat us,” WSU head coach Randy Rahe said of Forte. “We told McKay to go double-team, be active, dig around like crazy and see what happens. He did a really good job and got down there early, was very active and got the steal. I think it might have surprised him that we went down there (to double team) because we hadn’t been going down there.”
Ryan Richardson converted both of his free-throws with 10 second remaining to make the score 77-74, finishing his scoring output with a team-high 21 points. Richardson shot 7-of-9 from the field and 5-of-7 from three-point range to lead the Wildcats.
“I’m just thankful that I have an opportunity to play in this situation with these guys,” Richardson said. “In pressure situations, I know that they have my back and I their back. That’s all we need.”
To avoid a game-tying three, Senglin fouled Donivine Stewart on the next play and Stewart missed both free throws. Senglin was then sent to the line, converting his second free throw to ice the game with six seconds left.
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“You know what they say about tournaments. You’ve just got to try to survive and advance,” Rahe said. “That’s all we care about. Good teams find a way to make plays when things aren’t going your way, and that’s exactly what they did. Right now it doesn’t matter if it’s pretty or ugly. We’re going to advance and we’ll play a lot better.”
The final moments of the game were intensified in part because of the 15-point, first-half lead the Wildcats surrendered. The Vikings took their first lead of the game at 61-60 with more than eight minutes to play, but never led by more than three points.
The Wildcats shot the ball at a consistent 58 percent throughout the game, but their second half was riddled with turnovers that allowed Portland State to chip into the lead after trailing 46-37 at halftime.
“I was being careless with the ball,” Senglin said. “Coach Rahe told me to move on and that’s how we got through it.”
Weber State committed 20 turnovers to Portland State’s nine.
While Richardson led the scoring effort for Weber State, four other Wildcats scored in double figures with Senglin adding 16, Zach Braxton and Joel Bolomboy adding 12, and Cannon scoring 11 points.
Bolomboy found himself in foul trouble early, but managed to score 12 points and grab six rebounds in 22 minutes of play.
Weber State will now play North Dakota in the semifinals of the tournament. That game tips at 6:35 p.m. MST Friday and will air on WatchBigSky.com.