Weber State vs. Sacramento State 03

Weber State's Jerrick Harding (10) reacts after a play in the first half of a men's NCAA basketball game against Sacramento State on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019, at Dee Events Center in Ogden.

OGDEN — For going on 10 minutes in the second half, Weber State head coach Randy Rahe must have felt like Bill Murray in the 1993 film “Groundhog Day.”

It was the same Feb. 2 holiday, after all, and the Wildcats were in the midst of seeing another second-half lead disappear, just like Thursday night’s loss to Portland State — but instead of a 12-point advantage vanishing, Saturday saw a 21-point lead dwindle to five.

Jerrick Harding helped avoid a repeating loop and assured Weber State woke up on the right timeline. Harding scored his team’s final 12 points and WSU escaped with a 75-65 win at the Dee Events Center.

“Second half, I thought we started off ... playing really good offense and defense, getting stops,” Rahe said. “But that team we played is the toughest, most physical, hardest-playing team in our league, year in and year out, because their coach ... that’s what he gets those kids to do. I have great respect for them.”

The junior scoring sensation turned his ankle severely enough in the first half that he had to be helped off the floor. He had it taped up, returned and finished with 25 points.

Harding’s crescendo that staved off the Hornets’ comeback came with one minute left and Weber State (14-8, 8-3 Big Sky) leading 68-63.

Yet another WSU offensive possession was winding down with no clear look at the basket. Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’afa tipped away a pass at the top of the key that rolled toward Weber State’s bench. Harding picked it up, took one dribble, leaned off his back foot and flipped up a 3-pointer just before the shot clock expired.

It found a favorable glass and banked in.

“He fouled me, too. It was an and-one,” Harding joked postgame.

And his ankle?

“It’s pretty sore right now,” Harding said. “I just want to help my team anyway I can ... whatever I have to fight through for my teammates.”

That shot was impactful because Weber State scored 21 points in the first 8:45 of the second half to take a 63-42 lead, but went the next nine minutes with only three points (on a different Harding 3-pointer).

Sacramento State (9-10, 3-7), statistically the best defensive team in the Big Sky, switched to a zone defense in hopes of slowing down the Wildcats. It sparked what became a 19-3 run that finished with seven straight points from Hornets big man Ethan Esposito.

“We hadn’t seen a zone in quite some time. We practiced for it a little yesterday, but it totally took us out of rhythm,” Rahe said. “We had a really good rhythm going ... then we got a little impatient, didn’t move the ball as quick as we needed to. That’s why you change defenses, to hope that happens.”

Weber State vs. Sacramento State 02

Weber State's Zach Braxton (44) pulls down a dunk in the second half of a men's NCAA basketball game against Sacramento State on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019, at Dee Events Center in Ogden.

WSU held off the comeback this time, but Brekkott Chapman said he knows the recipe to avoid similar letdowns in the future.

“It takes coming out here being locked in every day at practice, not letting ‘oh, we got a win, we can loosen up a little bit ... we’re going on the road, we’ll be more locked in on the road,’” Chapman said. “Every single practice we have to come in with fire and intensity like we would in a game, so it translates over from practice.”

Chapman finished with 15 points, seven rebounds, four assists and one block. Zach Braxton added 12 points, seven rebounds and a block, and Harding also pulled down seven rebounds and had two steals.

Freshman guard Israel Barnes scored 10 points for the second straight game, adding three assists.

Marcus Graves, the conference’s leading assists and steals man, finished with 14 points, four assists and two steals for Sacramento State.

Weber State next hits the road to play Southern Utah (Feb. 7) and Northern Arizona (Feb. 9).

Weber State vs. Sacramento State 10

Weber State's Zach Braxton (44) pulls down a dunk in the second half of a men's NCAA basketball game against Sacramento State on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019, at Dee Events Center in Ogden.

Contact Brett Hein at bhein@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter @bhein3/@WeberHQ and at facebook.com/WeberStateSports.

Brett Hein is the sports editor and covers Weber State sports for the Standard-Examiner.

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