SALT LAKE CITY — Competitive from the jump, Wednesday’s nonconference finale between Weber State and BYU men’s basketball came down to just a few crucial plays.
Some came in the first half and some in the second. In the end, the final score reflected the margin from the first time BYU created space and the Cougars claimed an 87-79 victory at Vivint Arena.
“For the most part, we did pretty well,” WSU senior forward Dontay Bassett said. “They had a couple wide-open (3-pointers) that kind of killed us in the first half. Other than that, we played hard, we never gave up, we stayed hungry, we stayed going play by play.”
With the margin floating around 7-10 points in BYU’s favor throughout the second half, Michal Kozak canned a 3-pointer from the wing to make it 76-70 with 4:25 left. Brandon Averette answered with one of only six BYU 3-pointers to keep the Cougars comfortable.
An inside bucket from Cody Carlson and a baseline jumper from Isiah Brown got WSU to within 81-76 with 1:50 remaining but, with 30 ticks left, BYU’s Caleb Lohner grabbed the final of his four offensive rebounds and scored to put the game away at 83-76.
“They stuck to the game plan really well,” WSU head coach Randy Rahe said. “Our kids fought their asses off. What I kept telling them is we’re never going to flinch.
“Our goal was to come down the stretch and ... put ourselves in position, a four-, five-point game and we’re going to find a way to win the game,” Rahe continued. “We got to that point, and (BYU) got loose on a post touch and a couple things. We were right where we needed to be, but they made couple plays and we didn’t.”
Zahir Porter and Seikou Sisoho Jawara led Weber State (3-3) with 16 points apiece, with Porter shooting 4 of 6 from deep. Sisoho Jawara added five assists, four rebounds and two steals.
Dontay Bassett totaled 13 points and two blocks, the big man shooting 3 of 5 from deep, and Brown added 12 points. Carlson and Kozak each netted nine points.
For BYU, Matt Haarms scored 15 points, Averette 13, Alex Barcello 12, and Lohner and Richard Harward 11 each as the Cougars (9-2) exploited their size advantage and depth to wear out Weber inside.
Ultimately, the key stretch may have come in the first half.
Almost every bucket flipped the scoreboard in the first 10 minutes when the game saw three ties and nine lead changes. The first time the margin grew greater than three points came on a Kolby Lee push shot in the paint, followed by an Averette floater that capped an 8-0 run and put BYU ahead 23-16 with 7:55 left in the first frame.
Other than that stretch, both teams competed with solid defense and stuck to their game plans: BYU forcing someone other than Brown to carry the scoring load and Weber, trying to keep BYU from winning the game at the 3-point line.
Both plans largely played out, and each team found counterpunches.
For Weber State, it was Sisoho Jawara finally finding fruits of his offensive game by seeing shots fall, Porter continuing his confident offensive play and Bassett nearing full strength after a minor preseason knee procedure.
Bassett, the 6-foot-9 senior transfer from Florida, got his first start and played alongside Carlson for long stretches — to combat BYU’s size, yes, but a show of confidence in Bassett that his presence on the floor will lead WSU to success.
“This was a good game for (Bassett) to start because of their bigs ... but we’ve got to be able to play those two guys together. They’re two really good players,” Rahe said. “We’ll see where it goes, but they need to be on the floor.”
It paid off early when Bassett scored in the post over the 7-foot-3 Haarms, then drained a 3-pointer to make it 7-7 a few minutes in.
“I felt 100% out there, my conditioning felt good,” Bassett said. “The coaching staff and training staff did an excellent job ... getting me back on the court and making sure I was acclimated to the small movements that are necessary on the court. I felt like it was pretty good.”
BYU’s counterpunch was a punishing paint game with Haarms, Lee, Harward and Lohner — and the one time WSU lost a shooter behind the arc.
After the Cougars created their first separation, Porter answered with a 3 for the Wildcats. Then Trevin Knell knocked down a pair of 3s in a stretch of 80 seconds to put BYU up 32-23 with 5:07 left in the first half.
Outside of those two Knell shots, BYU shot 4 of 20 from deep.
Slowly moving back to the Top 25 consideration they enjoyed last season, the Cougars break for the holidays to rest after 11 contests before traveling to an improved Pepperdine team on Dec. 31 to open their WCC schedule.
After only six games, Weber State goes headlong into Big Sky Conference play with a fifth straight contest away from home, a Dec. 31 tilt at Idaho State.
“I asked our staff this morning, ‘do we know exactly what our team is right now?’” Rahe said. “We’re still not quite there. We’re starting to find an identity ... Dontay’s back now, so we’re going to make some adjustments after Christmas.
“We’re going to throw that ball inside, we’re not going to see anybody like (BYU) in our league, size-wise, so we’ve got to start to become a little bit more of an inside-out team. We found that out, that we can be that team ... But we want to have toughness and grit and fight, and I like where we’re at with that right now. They’re really developing that and a good chemistry.”