Jerrick Harding, recently crowned Weber State basketball’s all-time scoring king, has played through pain for much of this season.
The latest bout was a development of shin splints after returning from a severely sprained ankle suffered in the conference opener on Dec. 28, 2019. Since then, it’s been about rest, treatment and playing through it.
Something was a little more off than usual Thursday night in Missoula, however, and Harding was held out after warmups to the surprise of his teammates.
When Tim Fuller spun on his defender in the post and threw down a dunk to put Weber up 9-6 with 14:38 left in the first half, it appeared the Wildcats might be able to weather the storm a little. After all, WSU’s only other game without Harding in conference play was a win over Idaho.
But what ensued from that point developed into the fourth-lowest offensive output in WSU men’s basketball history. Montana’s two seniors got hot early, a confluence of cold shooting and the turnover bug handicapped Weber’s ability to counter, and the Griz raced to a 72-37 win to stay atop the Big Sky Conference standings.
“It was tough for our guys to hear right before the game,” WSU head coach Randy Rahe said. “We didn’t play very well but a lot of it had to do with Montana. They played well, they were ready to go.
“It’s no secret he’s been banged up all year, fighting it all year, and his body, honestly, caught up to him today,” Rahe said about Harding.
After Fuller’s dunk, Montana embarked on a 20-3 run that included, functionally, four straight 3-pointers that included two each from Kendal Manuel and Timmy Falls — though one of Manuel’s in that stretch came on a 3-for-3 free-throw trip after being fouled on a 3-point attempt.
Michal Kozak hit a 3 to stop the run and Weber briefly cut it to 26-18 before Montana (15-10, 11-3 Big Sky) ended the half on a 12-3 run to make it 38-21 at halftime. It didn’t get better after that.
Manuel, Falls and Sayeed Pridgett accounted for every first-half Montana point and made every Griz field goal for the first 33 minutes of the game. Pridgett finished with 25 points on 11-of-17 shooting, Manuel scored 21 points and Falls had 10.
Dima Zdor led WSU in scoring with nine points, which included a driving scoop layup and five free throws in the second half.
Fuller added eight points, while KJ Cunningham pitched in six points, five rebounds and three assists from his spot in the starting lineup as WSU shot 13 of 40 for the game, including 5 of 21 in the second half.
Junior wing Kham Davis played just 14 minutes for WSU, bothered by his ailing knee and sitting after picking up his fourth foul early in the second half.
The Wildcats (10-15, 6-8) entered the game as one of the top teams in the Big Sky in limiting turnovers but committed 21 Thursday, including 13 in the first half.
WSU regroups to play at Montana State (13-11, 7-6) on Saturday, a team that outlasted Idaho State 73-69 on Thursday.