Weber State men's basketball was seconds away from a gratifying victory Tuesday afternoon, one that would've been the Wildcats' first win against a Division I opponent.
WSU fought back from an 11-point, second-half deficit to take a late lead but a pair of Murray State free throws with 15 seconds left lifted the Racers to a 69-68 win on the second day of the Gulf Coast Showcase in Estero, Florida.
It was a heartbreaking end to a game of marked improvement for the Wildcats, coming against a good team after losing to San Diego and Wright State each by 15 points.
"We talked about it a lot yesterday. We just need to be a team that competes like crazy. Tough, competitive, 40-minute team," WSU head coach Randy Rahe said. "Our guys laid it out there today, gave ourselves a great opportunity. I thought we deserved to win that game, to be honest with you. We competed harder, were a little tougher.
"The ball didn’t bounce our way right at the end. We made really good progress today, that’s what our team needs to look like."
Weber trailed by as much as 47-36 with 14:58 left after a first half of cold shooting, one that couldn't take advantage of forcing Murray State into what ended as 19 turnovers.
But the Wildcats heated up, shooting 7 of 12 from deep in the second half to help slowly cut into Murray State's lead.
Cody John scored 10 points in the space of about three minutes to close the gap, setting up Judah Jordan for a game-tying 3-pointer, making it 65-65 with 2:12 left.
Weber State then forced a loose ball on the other end. Jerrick Harding raced the other way, attacked the basket and scored while being fouled. He made his free throw and Weber State led 68-65 with 1:32 left, its first lead since 16-15 at the 10:12 mark in the first half.
Tevin Brown then scored inside for Murray State. Harding tried to answer with a driving push shot that rimmed in and out and, on the other end, Jordan was called for a touchy foul while guarding Brown on the perimeter with 15 seconds left.
Brown made both of his free throws, giving Murray a 69-68 lead.
"He squared up to him and they made contact. I didn’t think it was a foul. He was right there," Rahe said. "Sometimes you’ve got to live with that stuff ... I won’t make any excuses about that."
Weber State came out of a timeout with 11.8 seconds left and used Harding as a decoy, which created an open driving lane for Jordan. His shot at the rim bounced out, Michal Kozak's attempted tip-in was too strong and Murray State survived Weber's efforts to secure the win.
"He got to the basket, it’s a shot he’s going to make. He’s a good player," Rahe said about the freshman Jordan. "He had no fear. I’ll live with it. We got what we wanted, we got a dang layup, it just didn’t bounce in."
John scored 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting to lead Weber State. Harding scored 18 points and grabbed six rebounds, and Kham Davis added eight points and seven rebounds. Kozak scored eight points.
For Murray State, 6-foot-10 sophomore KJ Williams was too much to handle, scoring 23 points on 11-of-15 shooting, spurring the Racers to a 36-28 halftime lead. Brown added 19 points.
Going into the game, Murray State was favored by eight points with a 76% win probability, according to Ken Pomeroy.
Weber State (1-4) now plays Northeastern (3-4) in their final tournament game, schedule to tip at 9 a.m. MST Wednesday.