MISSOULA — Steven Verplancken knocked down a 3-pointer with 1.3 seconds left in the game and the Weber State Wildcats topped the Montana Grizzlies 59-57 at Dahlberg Arena in a big tilt between Big Sky Conference rivals on Thursday evening.
It was a low-scoring affair between the familiar foes, and as it usually does it came down to the bitter end similar to last year when the Grizzlies won on a buzzer-beater by Lonnell Martin Jr. in Missoula.
But this year, it was the Wildcats' turn to take the victory as standout sophomore Dillon Jones led Weber State with 17 points and 21 rebounds while Verplancken finished with 12 and Alex Tew added 10.
With the game tied 52-52, Griz forward Josh Bannan got the basket and scored and was fouled with 1:12 left. He missed the free throw, and on the next possession, Junior Ballard duplicated Bannan with the bucket and the foul. He made his free throw and it was 55-54 with 51 seconds left.
A dunk by Bannan with 31 seconds left put the Griz up one again, and Martin forced a turnover on defense that fired up UM's players and 3,243 fans in attendance. Aanen Moody, who led UM with 17 points, was fouled on the inbounds and went just 1 for 2 from the line to make it 57-55 with 10 seconds to play.
Jones was fouled on the next possession and went 1 for 2 from the line. On the ensuing inbounds, Martin was the passer, and as he was running pass his foot appeared to hit UM's basket and he fell while throwing it. The ball went right into the outstretched arm of Dyson Koehler who found Verplancken immediately, and the rest, was history.
"It shouldn't have come down to that," UM coach Travis DeCuire said. "Good teams beat themselves and free throws, turnovers, shot selection down the stretch. This is a game we should've put 70 points on the board if we just take care of the ball and get the right shot. We had the opportunity to push it 10, 12 and we didn't take care of the ball or get good shots and you put pressure on yourself to come down to that possession."
Moody's heave at the buzzer fell short, sending the Grizzlies to 8-9 overall and 2-3 in league play. Weber State improved to 8-9 overall and 3-1 in Big Sky play. UM shot 40.8% from the field and 9 for 27 from deep while Weber State shot 39.2% from the floor and 8 for 19 from 3-point range. The Grizzlies were 8 for 11 from the line — with all of their misses coming in the final 2:09 — while the Wildcats were 11 for 17 from the charity stripe. Weber State also out-rebounded UM 35 to 28.
"It you'd have told me we would hold them to 59 points we'd win by double-figures in my opinion, but like I said we stopped scoring," DeCuire said. "It wasn't anything they were doing because we were in transition on quite a few of those possessions, we just turned the ball over or took OK shots, we didn't get great shots. We got to get to a point where we're more patient when it matters."
Bannan added 12 points and seven rebounds for the Grizzlies. UM trailed 9-0 to start the game, but after finding their footing, built a 16-11 lead after a pair of threes by Moody. Weber State eventually took a 28-25 lead into halftime.
The Grizzlies host Idaho State (6-11, 3-1) on Saturday at 7 p.m.