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After leading by as many as 21 points in the second half, the Weber State University men’s basketball team held on to defeat Northern Arizona University 76-67 on Thursday. The win brought the Wildcats to 11-6 in the season, 8-1 in the Big Sky Conference.
“Any time you get a win on the road in this conference, no matter who it is or where it is, it’s a good win, and it’s a steal,” said WSU head coach Randy Rahe. “This team was playing real good basketball at home, and we kind of brought the fight to them. I thought our guys were really hungry and determined, and we snuck one out.”
Both teams shot a high percentage early in the half, as both teams shot over 60 percent early on. There were five early lead changes.
The Wildcats were the first team on the board. Senior Davion Berry saw the Lumberjacks converge to him, and he found senior Kyle Tresnak wide open under the basket for a slam dunk.
Tresnak started out hot, getting seven quick points, a rarity this season. The teams were back and forth in the first 10 minutes of the game. Midway through the half, the Wildcats led 18-14.
The Wildcat freshmen were busy early on. Jeremy Senglin had six early points, including two layups. Richaud Gittens added four on two layups of his own.
“(Senglin) played well,” Rahe said. “He was in a good frame of mind, and he found a rhythm. I thought in the first half, he was really key, because we weren’t scoring at a high rate. He made some shots that would give us the lead or keep us up a few points. He made some baskets to keep them off of us a little bit.”
The Wildcats pushed their lead to as many as six in the first half. The free-throw line was the Wildcats’ bread and butter in the first half. WSU converted 10-16 from the charity stripe.
But the Lumberjacks made a late run to tie the game up at 26-26 with three minutes left in the first half. The Wildcats finished strong, pushing the lead to 35-29 at the end of the half, tying the largest lead of the game.
Berry finished the first half with 10 points and four rebounds. Senglin also had 10 points for WSU. Senior Max Jacobsen had 10 points for the Lumberjacks. Junior Aaseem Dixon added seven points for NAU.
“I told the guys when we were in the locker room that I came out playing lazy,” Berry said. “I wasn’t into it defensively at all. In the second half I picked it up. I told the guys that it would be a grind in the second half.”
Senglin continued his hot streak on the first possession of the second half, hitting a three to push the lead to nine. After a wild shot from NAU, Berry hustled down the floor and made a jumper to push the lead to double digits.
The Wildcats blew the game wide open five minutes into the second half, bringing their lead to 21 points. Berry led the push, scoring nine points on a 16-1 WSU run. NAU missed its first seven shots of the half.
“I thought the first five minutes of the second half were key,” Rahe said. “We really jumped on them. We got stops right away, and we executed our stuff really well in the second half in the first seven minutes.”
The Lumberjacks made a run of their own midway through the second half, cutting the lead to 13. But the Wildcats stopped the bleeding and pushed the lead back to 19 with six minutes left in the game.
The Lumberjacks continued to apply full-court pressure and were able to cut the lead down to single digits. The Wildcats committed a few late turnovers, and the Lumberjacks capitalized, cutting the lead to just five with less than a minute left. But the Wildcats were able to make their free throws, holding on for the win.
“We definitely have to keep our composure in that situation,” Berry said. “We started to turn over the ball. I had four turnovers tonight. But as long as we came out with the W.”
Berry led the way with 28 points, a career high. Senglin added 15 points on 5-6 shooting. Jacobsen finished with 18 points for NAU.
The Wildcats faced California State University, Sacramento on Saturday. That game will be covered in the Wednesday edition of The Signpost and on www.wsusignpost.com.