The Weber State Wildcats are back to the big dance – and they finally got by the Montana Grizzlies to do so.
Breaking a seven-game head-to-head losing streak against Montana, Weber State held it together to grab a 62-59 triumph Saturday night, winning the Big Sky Men's Championship and advancing to the 2016 NCAA Tournament.
Jeremy Senglin led the victors with a 20-point, six-assist performance. Ryan Richardson added 15, Kyndahl Hill scored 10 off the bench, and Lillard days old-timer Joel Bolomboy grabbed nine boards as well as swatted away three Montana shots.
Weber State's Edge Fades Away – But The Wildcats Prevail
Weber State jumped out to an early 13-6 lead behind the off-the-bat scoring of Senglin and Richardson, and it quickly jumped out to double-digits. Every Griz bucket was matched or bettered by the Wildcats on the other end, and by the 11:15 mark of the first half, it was a 26-12 ballgame.
That lead, which reached a peak 13 points on two occasions in the first, shrank from 35-22 to 35-32 in a matter of three minutes thanks to Montana's 10-0 run, led by Martin Breunig and Walt Wright. Michael Oguine added his six points on the night during the latter stretch of the opening half, and the two sides battled their way to a three-point game by halftime, with Weber State clinging to a 41-38 lead.
Breunig, who led the Griz with 20 points, scored the second half's first two buckets to snatch Montana's first lead of the game at 42-41. From there until the halfway mark of the second, the two sides were tight as a drum, inseparable by more than three points until Weber State scored five straight at the 10:09 mark to take a 54-48 lead.
But Montana was right back on the Wildcats' tails, scoring five of their own unanswered as they cut the lead back to a single point. Only 14 points were scored over the final nine-and-a-half minutes, but that didn't take away from the palpable intensity that ensued down the stretch.
A successful Kyndahl Hill jumper made it 60-56 in Weber's favor with four-and-a-half to go, and after a two-minute wait, the Griz made it back to within one on Bobby Moorehead's stone-cold three from the left side of the arc.
Sadly, that would be the last points for Montana, but Weber State allowed the result to hang thin in the air until the very end. The Wildcats failed to score repeatedly and got possession of the ball, still up one, with 24 seconds. Where a foul would seem imminent, the Griz let 17 seconds tick off the clock before committing a foul.
The subsequent inbound ball after a Weber timeout found its way into the net by way of a Dusty Baker layup, assisted by Senglin, and now without any timeouts and just about five seconds to go, Montana had to rush the ball up the floor and hurl up a three in hopes of sending this one to overtime.
But no such thing would happen this particular Saturday, as Wright's missed game-tying shot from deep prompted the relieving horn as 26-8 Weber State was crowned Big Sky champs and granted a berth into the 2016 NCAA Tournament.
Now the question remains – how far can this mid-major danger go?