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In front of one of the largest crowds to fill the Dee Events Center this season, the Weber State University men’s basketball team held on in the final minute to defeat in-state rival Southern Utah University 65-59 on Saturday.
“I want to give credit to Southern Utah,” said WSU head coach Randy Rahe. “They played an outstanding game. That was one of the better games that they have played all year. They were ready to go, they were well prepared. We were very fortunate to survive.”
The Wildcats started out hot from beyond the arc, making their first two attempts from long range. That propelled WSU to a quick 6-0 lead.
The Thunderbirds climbed right back into the game with three quick buckets, cutting the lead to just one for the Wildcats.
The Wildcats pushed the lead back to five on two 3-pointers. The Wildcats started out the game shooting 4-5 from downtown.
Both teams hit a cold spell midway through the half, keeping the game close. The Wildcats went scoreless on eight straight possessions. The Thunderbirds broke the streak and scored seven unanswered points to take their first lead at 22-20 with seven minutes left in the first half.
WSU freshman Jeremy Senglin broke the streak for the Wildcats, scoring on a coast-to-coast layup. Senglin scored five straight for the Wildcats, keeping it a one-possession ballgame. The Thunderbirds led 32-29 at halftime.
The Thunderbirds came into the game ranked last in field goal percentage and turnovers, but it was the Wildcats who trailed in those categories going into the half. The Thunderbirds shot 52 percent in the first half and caused six WSU turnovers, leading to five points. SUU also had a strong contribution from its bench, getting 15 points.
“They were just hitting shots,” Senglin said. “They were making tough shots. We were playing good defense, putting our hand up, but they were making them.”
SUU senior Jaren Jeffery led all scorers with 13 points in the first half. He also had four rebounds. Freshman Trey Kennedy added eight points for the Thunderbirds.
Senglin led the Wildcats with eight points. Senior Davion Berry added seven points for WSU.
The Wildcats came out attacking the basket in the second half, drawing four fouls in the first two minutes. Both teams continued to shoot a strong percentage from the field to start the half, keeping the SUU lead between four and seven.
Free throws maintained the Wildcats in the second half. Berry scored six straight points from the line to bring the Wildcats back within three points. The Wildcats tied the game at 43 with a layup from freshman Richaud Gittens with 11 minutes left in the game.
Gittens gave the Wildcats the lead back on free throws with nine-and-a-half minutes remaining as he was fouled on a fast break, a lead the Wildcats didn’t relinquish.
The Wildcats got the spark they needed with five minutes to play as Berry drove baseline before finding Joel Bolomboy for a monster dunk. On their next possession, Berry hit freshman Kyndahl Hill for an alley-oop, bringing the crowd to its feet in thunderous fashion.
The Thunderbirds hit a 3-pointer in the final minute to bring the game within two. The Wildcat defense held down the stretch, and WSU escaped with its fifth-straight home win.
“This is a rivalry game for both of us,” Berry said. “They came out and they gave us their best punch and we were ready for it. They took it to us, so we weren’t going to back down. We accepted the challenge and we were ready.”
Berry led all scorers with 25 points, 18 of which came from the free-throw line. The Wildcats made 31-43 free-throw attempts for the game. Kennedy had 17 points for SUU.
“With 20 conference games, you are probably going to have 3-4 really ugly games, and you have to find a way to win when that game is up,” Rahe said. “The positive thing is that we found a way to win a very ugly basketball game. Now we have to focus on getting better.”
The Wildcats also played a game on Monday night. That game will be covered in the Friday issue of The Signpost and at www.wsusignpost.com.