OGDEN — A sluggish first half was expected Sunday night, but not from the home team.
Tarleton State, a WAC squad on its third road game in three days, had Weber State men’s basketball flat-footed in the first half, driving to the rim for 20 paint points.
And when Montre Gipson paired a driving layup with a deep 3-pointer to open the second half, putting the visiting Texans ahead 49-35, the Wildcats appeared in danger of dropping a game they had no business losing.
But Zahir Porter and Isiah Brown exploded in the second half and Weber State used defense to win the next 18 minutes 59-30 for an ultimately convincing 94-79 victory at the Dee Events Center.
Weber State sprung a half-court trap at Tarleton and it visibly snapped the Wildcats out of the funk. Porter immediately snatched a steal on the first use of the trap and, overall, the Texans were no longer running free to the rim and the Wildcats were no longer sleepwalking.
“That’s one of our defenses that gets us energy so when I got the first steal right off the first input, that gave us a lot of energy and we started feeding off that,” Porter said. “That really made everybody step their game up and that’s when we made our push.”
It took less than seven minutes to erase the deficit. Porter splashed a 3 for a 56-55 lead with 11:30 left and Weber State never trailed again.
“We’re a pretty good defensive team and we couldn’t guard them in the first half,” WSU head coach Randy Rahe said. “Guys have to fly around and play faster to get some traps ... and then we start to get into rhythm.”
Porter surged from there, knocking down a pair of treys to put Weber up 12 before throwing down a lob dunk thrown by KJ Cunningham.
Once down, Tarleton’s press gave WSU more clean scoring chances so, on the next possession, Porter took a pass-ahead on the wing, got past his man and threw down a dunk with two hands.
Porter followed that with a heat-check 3-pointer, scoring 13 of 15 Weber points in a stretch that put the Wildcats up 84-70.
“I was definitely just feeling it tonight. Tonight was one of my better nights,” he said.
He racked up 18 of his team-high 23 points in the second half, adding four rebounds and five assists. Brown scored 16 of his 22 in the second half, adding nine rebounds and five assists.
Seikou Sisoho Jawara kept WSU afloat before Porter and Brown took over, totaling 14 points and three assists. Freshman Dillon Jones added 13 points and nine rebounds, and Cunningham added 10 points and four assists.
Gipson played all 40 minutes and led Tarleton with 26 points. Tahj Small and Freddy Hicks scored 16 and 11, respectively, but both were fouled out by the 7:39 mark in the second half as WSU’s energy led the short-handed Texans into foul trouble.
Having played the fewest conference games in the league due to COVID-19 cancellations from opponents, the Wildcats (6-3, 1-1 Big Sky) hopefully begin a swing of Big Sky games this week hosting a strong Southern Utah (10-2, 5-1) team on Jan. 21 before playing the Thunderbirds Jan. 23 in Cedar City.
After going 23 days with just one game, two weekend games leading into the Southern Utah series have the Wildcats feeling back into the groove.
“I felt like this made our team take the next step into being one of the elite teams in the Big Sky Conference,” Porter said.
Rahe, while saying he’s still learning about his team each game, praised his players’ character and togetherness.
“When we play with an edge and an urgency to us, we’ve got a pretty good basketball team,” Rahe said. “We’ve only had two halves where we haven’t played with an edge — Portland State, second game first half, and this one here ... but they have a great competitive spirit. At halftime ... you could tell in their eyes, ‘this isn’t us. We’re better than this.’”