The “tale of two halves” sports cliché could not have played out more distinctly than it did Saturday night in Bozeman, Montana.
After ending the first half on a tear to take a halftime lead, Weber State men’s shot colder than cold in the second half and Montana State prevailed 77-63 to end a tough road trip for the Wildcats.
Like in their Jan. 23 matchup in Ogden, MSU came out of halftime in a 1-3-1 zone. Unlike that previous matchup, WSU mostly handled the zone and produced open look after open look — and also hauled in nine offensive rebounds in the half, exploiting a key weakness of the 1-3-1.
The preparation failed to produce results. WSU shot 8 of 33 from the field after halftime, including a horrid 2 of 22 from the 3-point line.
“We haven’t been more open all year. They threw that 1-3-1 on us and we were ready for it. We executed absolutely perfectly and every shot we had was wide open and they just didn’t fall tonight,” WSU head coach Randy Rahe said. “We worked on it for 2.5 days and the ball didn’t go in. It’s one of those nights, you can’t really explain it.”
Those two second-half 3-pointers came from Kham Davis and Jerrick Harding, who were both game-time decisions after Davis played 14 minutes Thursday at Montana and left the game with a re-aggravation of his knee injury, and Harding sat out Thursday entirely after his varied leg ailments caught up to him.
Montana State used the lid on Weber’s basket to race to a 16-0 run early in the second half to claim a 50-42 lead. Harding, not moving well, found some life and led an 8-2 run with two jumpers to make it 52-50.
After Weber missed its first 14 3-pointers and the Bobcats answered with a 10-2 run, Davis finally hit Weber’s first 3 of the half. Harding followed with a reverse layup that made it 62-57 with 7:38 left.
WSU would make only one more field goal for the rest of the game, a Harding 3 with 2:13 left and the game already out of reach.
“It was just one of those frustrating nights because our kids played their tails off tonight. Man, did they compete,” Rahe said. “We deserved a better fate, we deserved that ball to go in but it just didn’t go in, and that’s basketball.”
It was a wild contradiction from the first half. Senior guard Cody John erupted for 18 points in the first frame, with 13 in the final 7 minutes. He hit a midrange jumper, then converted a steal into a transition layup to give Weber its first lead in 15 minutes late in the half.
John then closed the half with a 3-pointer that capped a 21-6 run and put WSU up 40-34 at halftime. He was 7 of 8 from the field and 3 of 4 from deep in the first half, reflecting his team’s torrid shooting splits: 16 of 27 (59.3%) from the field, 5 of 9 (55.6%) from deep, and 3 of 3 from the free-throw line.
In a snapshot of the second-half upheaval, John shot 0 of 7 after halftime.
His 18 first-half points still led WSU in scoring for the game. Harding added 16 points, with 11 after halftime, and Davis scored 10 points.
Cold shooting hurt, as did a knock to Weber’s frontcourt. Dima Zdor apparently left the game injured early in the second half after diving for a loose ball over the end line. So when Tim Fuller picked up his fourth foul with 7 minutes left, it helped unravel the run that helped cut WSU’s deficit to five points.
Montana State’s next three made field goals were at the rim, including one from an offensive rebound and another on a dunk by Jubrile Belo, assisted by Harald Frey to give the talented MSU senior guard 10 assists in the contest.
Belo totaled 23 points and 11 rebounds, and Frey added 16 points to his 10 assists, with 14 points coming after halftime.
Hopeful to remain in the six-team pack vying for the final two first-round byes in the Big Sky Tournament, Weber can recuperate its many maladies by finally reaching a lighter stretch. WSU plays two games in the next 14 days and doesn’t leave Ogden again for three weeks.
“We’ve got a bye week, finally. If anybody in our league needs one with where we’re at physically, it’s our team. We’ll try to get rested up, get our bodies back as much as we can,” Rahe said.