OGDEN — The Dee Events Center has never hosted a better single-game scoring effort than it did Thursday night.
On the same night he scored 25 first-half points to become Weber State's all-time career scoring leader, senior guard Jerrick Harding kept the pedal to the floor in the second half and willed the Wildcats to a 70-66 victory over Sacramento State.
With his signature variety of stepback 3-pointers, driving floaters and seemingly impossible makes in the paint, Harding finished with 44 points, setting a new single-game scoring record for the Dee Events Center by shooting 14 of 21 from the field, including 5 of 10 from the 3-point line, and 11 of 11 from the foul line.
"It's a great accomplishment, it's an honor, and I'm just going to keep moving forward," Harding said, saying he was most pleased in getting a win.
Most of all, it came against a relentless, suffocating Sacramento State defense that ran at least six different defenders at Harding. Despite playing 39 minutes and battling defenders ranging from 6-foot-2 to 6-foot-8, the 6-foot-1 guard added to his 25-point first half by shooting 4 of 7 from the field and 10 of 10 from the free-throw line in the second half.
"He damn sure earned it," WSU head coach Randy Rahe said. "They're rotating fresh guys on him, banging on him ... Jerrick doesn't come out in the second half, and he comes out and does that. It's truly remarkable. It does make it special because of their defense and how they do things."
After the final buzzer, former Weber State head coach Joe Cravens put his arm around Harding for a live postgame interview on the Eleven Sports TV broadcast. A small group of fans chanted his name, chanted "MVP" and came down to the front row to give him high fives as he left the court.
When Harding finally made it to the locker room after interviews on the court and in the media room, he opened the door and a loud, exuberant cheer rushed through the hallways under the Dee Events Center as his teammates celebrated his special night.
While Harding carried the scoring load, others chipped in at key moments. Cody John and Michal Kozak hit 3-pointers to stave off Sac State runs in the second half, and Kozak scored all nine of his points after halftime.
Despite the high-scoring drama from Harding, it was a defensive play that sealed the win for the Wildcats, who improved to 9-14 and 5-7 in the Big Sky.
Weber led 68-66 with 24 seconds left. Out of a timeout, Sacramento State cleared the paint and Bryce Fowler threw a beautiful entry pass to Josh Patton, who had sealed off a fronting Dima Zdor. Patton turned and rose for what looked like a clear, game-tying dunk, but Zdor recovered and blocked it cleanly.
Kham Davis secured the rebound, was fouled, and made two free throws to put the game away with 13 seconds remaining.
"I've got to praise our bigs," Harding said. "The refs were calling some ticky-tack fouls throughout the game and they just kept fighting. Dima made a big play at the end of the game ... I'm super proud of him."
John scored seven points and Tim Fuller grabbed 10 rebounds in the win. Zdor was in the game because Fuller and Kozak had each fouled out with 55 seconds left.
Izayah Mauriohooho-Le'afa led the Hornets with 22 points on five 3-pointers, rallying his team back slowly after Weber took a 41-31 lead early in the second half. Patton added 16 points and nine rebounds, but shot 6 of 11 from the foul line, including two misses that could have tied the game after Kozak fouled out.
The charity stripe was crucial, as Weber shot 17 of 19 while Sac State was 12 of 21. Each team made 23 field goals; WSU needed 43 attempts to the Hornets' 55.
Weber State moves on to host Northern Arizona (13-8, 7-5 Big Sky) on Saturday.