In a game with plenty on the line for both teams, Weber State found a way to get there far too often Saturday afternoon at Reese Court.
The Wildcats hit 32 of 43 foul shots in a 79-77 win that gave them the Big Sky Conference regular-season title and sent Eastern Washington to its fourth straight defeat heading into next week’s conference tournament in Reno, Nevada.
Despite that, EWU coach Jim Hayford says there’s no lack of confidence as the Eagles shift gears toward a first-round game on Tuesday night against Northern Arizona.
“I like how my team played,” Hayford said. “We played with tremendous fight and energy, and took the best team in the league right to the wire.”
But with 19 seconds left in a tense, foul-plagued contest, Weber State forward Joel Bolomboy swished a tie-breaking 3-point shot to leave the Eagles at 16-14 overall and 10-8 in the Big Sky.
“They made a very, very big play – Bolomboy hit a big shot,” Hayford said. “He had a big game and led his team to a championship.”
Despite the loss, the parting gifts on Senior Day went beyond the honors given to Venky Jois, Kyle Reid and Austin McBroom.
In a startling change-up, Hayford emptied the bench from the opening tip. Twelve Eagles saw action in the first half in a move that brought energy that was lacking in a 4-point loss to Idaho State on Thursday.
“We tried something new with the new guys bringing a lot of energy, and it worked,” said guard Austin McBroom, who finished with a game-high 30 points.
“That’s the hardest we’ve played all year. “We just had a couple of calls that didn’t go our way,” McBroom said.
More than a couple, actually. The Eagles were whistled for 32 fouls – four more than in any previous game this year, and Weber’s 43 trips to the foul line were 11 more than any EWU opponent this season. Weber didn’t go unscathed in the tightly-called game; the Wildcats were whistled 22 times.
By the time it was over, every EWU starter except McBroom had picked up at least four fouls. In addition, Hayford and Jois picked up technical fouls late in the second half.
And in a first at Reese Court, an Eastern cheerleader was ejected by the officials.
Asked to comment, Hayford said, “The Big Sky doesn’t allow me to talk about officiating.”
By halftime, the Eagles had been whistled for 15 fouls, yet led 39-34 on the strength of strong shooting (16-for-31 overall and 5-for-9 from beyond the arc.) Meanwhile, Weber managed to put up just 19 shots, making nine.
But as the teams warmed up for the second half, the Wildcats learned that Big Sky co-leader Montana had lost to Northern Colorado. Given the chance to seize an outright title, the Wildcats tried to seize the momentum.
Eastern’s 5-point lead evaporated within two minutes, but McBroom countered with a pair of 3-pointers and a hotly contested layin that put the Eagles ahead 51-42 with 14:58 left.
The lead grew to 11 on Julian Harrell’s layin with 13:48 to play, but the Wildcats (23-8 overall, 15-3 in the Big Sky) clawed back to tie the game at 59 after a 15-5 run that included just two field goals.
The contest went back until the final minutes. Eastern took its final lead, 75-72, on two free throws by McBroom with 1:18 left, but Bolomboy responded with a tying dunk.
The teams traded free throws – the last by Harrell with 43 seconds left to tie the game at 76 – before Bolomboy calmly drained the game-winner from 25 feet.
Weber St. 79, EWU 77
Weber St. (23-8, 15-3)—Bolomboy 6-9 12-15 26, Braxton 1-3 3-8 5, Richardson 3-6 2-2 11, Cannon 0-1 0-0 0, Senglin 4-11 5-6 14, Gittens 1-2 0-1 2, Baker 2-2 5-6 10, Hill 3-3 5-5 11. Totals 20-37 32-43 79.
Eeastern Washington (16-14, 10-8)—Henderson 0-3 1-2 1, Reid 0-0 0-0 0, Jois 6-11 0-4 12, Washington 1-2 0-0 2, McBroom 9-19 7-8 30, Harrell 3-3 2-4 8, Gibson 0-0 0-0 0, Ferris 0-0 0-0 0, Benzel 0-1 0-0 0, Bliznyuk 3-10 1-2 8, Hunt 1-1 1-2 4, Von Hofe 4-7 1-1 12. Totals 27-57 13-23 77. Halftime—E. Washington 39-34. 3-Point Goals—Weber St. 7-14 (Richardson 3-5, Bolomboy 2-2, Baker 1-1, Senglin 1-4, Gittens 0-1, Cannon 0-1), E. Washington 10-20 (McBroom 5-10, Von Hofe 3-5, Hunt 1-1, Bliznyuk 1-3, Henderson 0-1). Fouled Out—Jois. Rebounds—Weber St. 33 (Bolomboy 11), E. Washington 24 (Bliznyuk, Henderson, Jois 4). Assists—Weber St. 12 (Senglin 3), E. Washington 8 (Jois 3). Total Fouls—Weber St. 22, E. Washington 31. Technicals—Jois, E. Washington Bench. A—1,914.