The first 13 minutes of Saturday night’s men’s basketball matchup between Weber State and Sacramento State were a slog.
Sac State’s league-leading defense was up to its usual thing. Weber was mostly matching that effort but missed the open opportunities it got.
So, despite a torrid shooting effort in the second half, WSU’s six first-half field goals and the ensuing 28-18 deficit was enough to decide the game, which the homestanding Hornets won 71-57 in Sacramento, California.
“We had wide-open looks the first seven to 10 minutes of the game and we just couldn’t make them. Then they bore down defensively, this is the best defensive team in the league,” WSU head coach Randy Rahe said. “I thought that bothered us, that wore on us.
“We missed some early shots and, had we made some of those shots, our confidence would’ve gone up.”
The lid was on Weber State’s basket for the first 6:15 of the game before Jerrick Harding scored on a curl handoff for his team’s first field goal. At that point, it was only 8-4.
Harding kept Weber going early — he finished with a game-high 19 points — before Michal Kozak pushed up a paint bucket to make it 14-13 with 7:38 left in the first half.
But that was as close as Weber would come to the lead. The Wildcats (5-11, 1-4 Big Sky) went another 6:19 without a field goal after Kozak’s make. Sacramento State (10-4, 3-2) got 3-pointers from William Fitzpatrick and Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’afa to build a 14-3 run.
Tim Fuller dunked in an offensive rebound to stop the bleeding and the Hornets led 28-18 at halftime. Weber State shot 6 of 27 in the first half.
The second half looked like an entirely different game. Weber State used a stretch of 7 makes in 8 tries over a four-minute period, which included a three-point play from Harding and a 3-for-3 free-throw trip for Israel Barnes after shooting foul.
But that only cut the deficit to 50-42 with 9:16 left because the dam broke on the other side of the floor, too. Sac State, one of the conference’s best rebounding teams, starting getting through on the offensive glass.
Rahe credited that as the biggest factor, especially when it led to second-chance 3-pointers. The Hornets shot 4 of 8 from deep in the second half and 8 of 18 for the game, its best output from 3 this season.
“Second half, we got our offense going but we had a hard time stopping them. We had to double-team their post and offensive rebounds hurt us more than anything,” he said. “We didn’t do a very good job of that in the second half.”
The Wildcats reached a 14-of-19 field goal mark in the second half when Cody John knocked in a jumper to make it 64-57 with 2:21 left. But Josh Patton answered with a bucket while fouled inside to stretch the margin back to 10 points, snuffing out Weber’s final push.
Kozak and Fuller each totaled 12 points and nine rebounds inside for Weber State. John scored 11 points, all in the second half.
Ethan Esposito led Sac State with 17 points and Mauriohooho-Le’afa had 14, including a 4-of-7 mark from deep.
WSU remains on the road for trips to Idaho State on Thursday, Jan. 16, and to Portland State on Monday, Jan. 20.