OGDEN — After Thursday’s track-meet win, Weber State men’s basketball and Montana State engaged in what head coach Randy Rahe characterized as a “fistfight” on Saturday afternoon at the Dee Events Center.
The margin wasn’t larger than six points for the first 37 minutes of the contest, and WSU went cold offensively as MSU took a 60-55 lead on a Jubrile Belo bucket at the rim with 7:26 to go.
After a similar spurt in the first half, Weber State sophomore guard Seikou Sisoho Jawara took over. He answered the Belo score with a driving layup, hit a 3 to give WSU its first lead in 10 minutes of action, then hit another 3 moments later to cap a 17-4 run and put Weber in the driver’s seat, 72-64.
Sisoho Jawara scored 12 of his game-high 25 points in the final 7 minutes and Weber State earned an 82-74 victory, creating a logjam of four teams atop the Big Sky Conference.
“We can find ways to win, whether that’s the defensive end, offensive end, getting points in transition, stopping the post,” WSU senior big man Dontay Bassett said. “So far we’ve found every way to win and that’s a good thing to have.”
Freshman forward Dillon Jones grabbed three of his game-high 11 rebounds during the run, and deflected a post pass that led to one of two Isiah Brown steals during the rally.
From there it was a matter of free throws. WSU shot 8 of 8 down the stretch and finished 28 of 30 from the foul line, the third-best free-throw shooting performance in school history. Zahir Porter was 8 of 8 from the line and has made 21 straight.
Bassett scored 17 points for Weber State (11-4, 6-2 Big Sky), junior guard Porter scored 15 and the senior Brown added 11 points and four steals. Sisoho Jawara led with four assists, and Jones complemented his 11 rebounds with six points, three assists and a steal.
From the jump, the game was drastically different than Thursday’s 96-88 decision. After Belo spent the second half of Thursday’s game scoring at the rim or parading to the line, Weber ran a double team of big men Bassett and Cody Carlson at him the first time, and with various forward tandems almost every time he touched the ball.
Belo was 1 of 5 from the field in the first half and committed four turnovers, and was hassled into a pair of travel and double dribble violations that went uncalled.
The Wildcats, on the other hand, were choppy offensively as the Bobcats (9-5, 6-2) disrupted their offensive rhythm. WSU led 37-33 at the half; Sisoho Jawara had 13 points on perfect shooting (4 of 4 field goals, 3 of 3 3-pointers, 2 of 2 from the line), but everyone else shot 7 of 20 overall.
“He’s a great defensive player, he’s one of the leaders on this team,” Bassett said of Sisoho Jawara. “When he gets to put pressure on the defense in transition and coming off ball-screens, that really helps us as a team. I just love how he’s been playing aggressive ... he’s playing great for us right now.”
Both coaches kept an eye on foul trouble throughout, with 22 fouls in the first half and 47 total making the game much less free-flowing than the first matchup. Carlson picked up his third foul early in the second half on a double-foul with Belo during post-jostling that had occurred all game, while MSU spark-plug guard Xavier Bishop picked up his fourth early in the half diving for a loose ball.
Bishop and Amin Adamu did the offensive work while WSU doubled Belo, combining for 27 points on 10-of-18 shooting in the first half. But that duo was just 3 of 9 in the second half for 10 points.
“We just have to grind it out. There was a lot of basketball left to be played when they were going on runs,” Bassett said of the defensive game plan. “That’s the game. You have to grind it out, and that’s what we did.”
Weber State is now 54-8 all-time against Montana State in Ogden.
WSU’s wins in its first home series of conference play refigured the top of the Big Sky standings. Eastern Washington is 7-2 after sweeping Idaho; Weber, MSU and Southern Utah are all 6-2.
Weber State next travels to take on Montana for a pair of road matchups. The Griz (8-9) fell to 4-6 in league play after splitting a road series at Portland State.
Bassett said his team is feeling good about their progress after playing four straight weekends to follow a stop-and-go start to the season, and in winning eight of their last nine contests.
“We worked our butts off to be here, we deserve it, but there’s a lot of stuff we still have to do better. I like where we are right now,” Bassett said. “This is a foundation. We’ve had a little success but we can’t let it get to our head. We have to keep building on this ... we can’t get too ahead of ourselves and worry about the scoreboard. We have to leave it on the floor every night.”