by Dominic Ferrucci
Weber State walked out of “The Nest” on Saturday afternoon with a 72-70 win and series sweep over a persistent Sacramento State squad, but it was not easy. The Wildcats, who came into Saturday’s matchup with the lesser Hornets as the second best team nationwide in three-point shooting, struggled again from distance. They shot 29 percent as a team.
Additionally, three Weber State starters scored six points or less, including second leading scorer Seikou Sisoho Jawara. He tallied only six on 2-6 shooting for the game. The typically strong free throw shooting Wildcats shot 65 percent from the charity stripe and were tied with Sacramento State in both the turnover and rebounding battle. With 13 ties and 14 lead changes, the game could have gone either way. In the end, the Wildcats made one more shot, and it was a big one.
The start of Saturday’s outing was not pretty for the Wildcats as Sacramento State jumped out to a quick 9-4 lead at the first media timeout. The Wildcats climbed back into things tying the game at 10, thanks in large part to four points by Zahir Porter, who’s athleticism was on full display early. Porter skyed for a big block on one end, and later finished with an acrobatic layup on the other. His performance was crucial to helping the Wildcats to a series sweep as he led all Weber State scorers with 20 points on 9-12 shooting. He added two three-pointers in the game.
Saturday marked the third time all season that Porter has scored 20 points or more. The Wildcats are now 3-0 on such occasions. Porter’s story is a good one. The junior from the Bronx is a transfer from Division II New York Institute of Technology. They announced in August that they would be suspending athletics for at least two years. Today, without Porter’s contribution, the Wildcats would likely have returned to Ogden with a loss.
After a slow start, the Wildcats climbed back in the game and mounted a 10-0 run to take an eight point lead with just under seven minutes to go in the first half. The Wildcats dug deep defensively in that stretch. They forced a couple of turnovers and created second chances with two offensive rebounds. After going up 25-17, however, the Hornets answered with a 7-0 run of their own. Weber State went three minutes without a field goal. They eventually trailed Sacramento State before a Sisoho Jawara three-point shot ended the drought. Later, Isiah Brown added another three-pointer. That gave the Wildcats a one-point lead going into the break.
The second half saw both teams shoot over 50 percent and Weber State held an advantage for most of it until an Ethan Espositio jumper put the Hornets up by two with 6:16 left. Zahir Porter answered right back with a three pointer, but from there the game teater-toted. After Brandon Davis put the Hornets up by two with three and a half minutes left, Weber State answered with a Dontay Bassett dunk and followed that with a quick timeout.
After a couple missed free throws from Hornets guard Christian Terrell, Dillon Jones put the Wildcats up by two. Jones added another bucket after a pair of Ethan Esposito free throws knotted the game and the Wildcats were up 70-68 with 29 seconds left. After each team took a timeout, Christian Terrell connected on a contested jumper to tie the game once more, but Wildcats elected to play on and leader Isiah Brown took the ball right down and with relative ease drove by Hornet guard Brandon Davis. He connected on a layup with 1.5 seconds left to ice the game.
The decision to not call a timeout was a great decision by Randy Rahe who let Brown take the game into his hands and sure enough it paid off. The game winning layup was two of Brown’s 18 points on the game. He is averaging over 20 points in the Wildcats five game winning streak. Brown’s layup was the story Saturday. Without Dillon Jones though, the Wildcats would not have the opportunity for the senior’s heroics. Jones scored six of the last ten points for Weber State and showed incredible poise for a freshman on the road.
Jones’ stat-line included 12 points and 8 rebounds in 30 minutes off the bench as he continues to clean up on the boards averaging 8.4 a game throughout the Wildcat win streak. Dontay Bassett added eight points off the bench as well going 6-6 from the free throw line in his second game back from injury.
For the Hornets, senior leader Ethan Esposito responded after his struggles on Thursday. He had a 26 point 13 rebound effort. Esposito added a 7-11 outing from the line, improving on a 4-9 showing in the first game of the series. He was a large part of keeping the Hornets in contention. Outside of Esposito, guards Christian Terrell and Bryce Fowler added 10 points each, but were much less efficient. They combined for 8-21 which paled in comparison to Esposito’s 9-15 performance.
The Wildcats did a good job defending Hornets guard William Fitzpatrick. They held the senior to just one three-pointer and five points. The Hornets managed only 11 makes on 21 free throw attempts. Once again they got to the line more than Weber State, but failed to capitalize. The Hornets will conclude their regular season this week with road games in Bozeman against Montana State.
As for the Wildcats, Randy Rahe’s squad has now clinched a top three spot in the Big Sky after a ninth place showing last season. Weber State will take a five game win streak back to the Dee Events Center where they are undefeated this season in the final two games with seventh place Northern Colorado. The Bears will come into the series fresh off a split with Portland State. following a COVID pause that caused them to play only two Big Sky games in February. The series will get started on Thursday at 7 P.M Mountain Standard Time. It will conclude with a noon tip off on Saturday. The Wildcats will look to carry their momentum into March as they hope to capture two wins and head into Boise with a seven game win streak.
Photo courtesy of Sacramento State Athletics