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LOGAN — All good things must come to an end. Some endings are more shocking than others, though.
Utah State was chasing history inside the Spectrum on Monday night as it tried to become the first Aggies team to start a season 10-0. It looked well on its way to doing so when Utah State led Weber State 43-29 at halftime.
Then the Wildcats put together a 20-minute stretch that will surely go down in Northern Utah lore. Weber State played near-perfect basketball, shooting 58.6%, and shut down the Aggies offense to complete a 28-8 run, and then withstood Utah State’s late push.
Taylor Funk’s potential game-tying 3-pointer for the Aggies with 18 seconds left in the game missed, and the visitors from Ogden pulled off a stunning 75-72 win.
“You have to give all the credit to Weber State and their players for making the key plays throughout that second half to give them the best chance to win,” Utah State coach Ryan Odom said. “Obviously, our guys are kicking themselves.
“It’s a crappy feeling. We’re going to think about this one a lot tonight and the things that we fell short on in the second half.”
Ranked 250th in the NCAA Evaluation Tool, or NET, Weber State didn’t look the part against the 10-ranked Aggies coming out of the halftime locker room.
The visitors executed their offensive sets and finished with five players in double figures. Weber State stymied a dynamic Utah State offense, and held them to just three field goals through the first 13 minutes of the second half. Junior Ballard went 5-of-5 for 14 points, Dillon Jones finished with 16 points, and the Wildcats led by 6 with 6:30 remaining.
“I think we got the pace of the game to where we needed it,” Weber State coach Eric Duft said. “You just can’t come in here and run up and down. We played it kind of on our terms in the second half, and they played it on their terms in the first half. It worked out well for us.”
The Aggies made their counter move with just over six minutes left in regulation when they trailed 57-51. Steven Ashworth hit a 3-pointer, Funk got a bucket, Rylan Jones forced a charge, and 7,000 fans got to their feet.
But Ballard answered with a layup.
Ashworth hit a step-back 3-pointer to tie the game at 61-all with 3:22 left, and Ballard countered with a 3-pointer of his own. Ashworth responded, again, by hitting another tying shot from further out, then KJ Cunningham buried a 3-pointer from the corner.
A jumper from Ballard with 1:11 capped off a 9-3 run, and the Wildcats led 73-67. The Aggies nearly tied it late, as Funk had an open look in the corner, but it went wide.
Blow for blow, Weber State responded and pulled off the well-deserved upset. As the buzzer sounded, its players rushed over to the sparse but frenzied Aggies winter-break student section to revel in the victory. Different Aggies players bit their jerseys with their teeth in frustration.
“We hit a three to tie it, they put a three to go up; we’d hit a three to tie, and they’d hit a three to take the lead, and that’s kind of the end of it right there,” Jones said. “You’ve got to score and you’ve got to get a stop. It was score-score. When you do score-score, you can’t win. So we need to get those stops in the second half that we did don’t get.”
The win marks the second time in history Weber State has defeated Utah State in basketball.
“They just brought toughness and they were locked in,” Jones said. “Obviously, this game really meant something to them. You saw after the game that they were talking to the fans. They just showed an energy and they wanted it more than us tonight.”
In the first half, Utah State looked bent on nabbing its 10th win. Sean Bairstow opened the game with 8 straight points, Funk buried a contested 3-pointer and blew a kiss, and the Aggies shot 54.2% from the field and led by as much as 18. Utah State then opened the second half shooting 1-of -10 from 3-point range and 3-of-18 from the field, and the offense failed to generate in-rhythm shots and didn’t get out in transition.
“In the second half, when you’re not scoring, sometimes that can suck the energy out of you a little bit,” Odom said. “When you are scoring like they were and they were getting stops, the energy and momentum shifts. That’s what college basketball is all about. There are momentum changes all the time in sports — you see it all the time. You saw it at the World Cup, you see it in football, you see it in basketball nightly.”
“It takes a while to figure out since they’re so good on offense, it takes a while to get into a rhythm defensively,” Duft said. “We always talk about rhythm on offense, but I think defensively it’s the same thing. I thought we did a much better job, our closeouts to shooters were a lot better in the second half. We didn’t get driven by, we were guarding the ball one-on-one, and were able to rebound it.”
The Aggies hop a plane on Tuesday to Hawaii to close out nonconference play in the three-game Hawaii Diamond Classic. Weber State carries the momentum into BYU on Thursday.
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