Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Favorites shocked: Weber State falls in a stunner to No. 6 seed Montana State

In a game that not a soul was bold enough to predict, Montana State defeated Weber State in the Big Sky Tournament Semifinals, 70-61.

The win advances Montana State, an unlikely participant, to the Big Sky Championship where they will face the No. 2 seeded Portland State in the championship game tomorrow evening. At stake will be a spot in the NCAA Tournament, the first for Montana State since 1996.

The Bobcats trounced the host Wildcats, who they had fallen to by 20 points just one week ago, behind a terrific defensive performance and sharpshooting from the perimeter.

Weber State managed to hit just four of their 26 three-point attempts while Montana State shot an efficient 40 percent from beyond the arc. The Wildcats shot just 33 percent from the field for the game and had just eight team assists.

“They played really hard,” Kellen McCoy, Weber State’s senior guard said. “We just didn’t hit our shots and they came in with a lot of heart. Everything changed from two weeks ago.”

The loss left the 5,162 in attendance devastated, and the host Wildcats wondering what went wrong.

Montana State, who barely snuck into the Big Sky Tournament, upset rival Montana in a road game last Saturday to earn their ticket to Ogden.

On Tuesday night, they made believers out of the rest of the conference by handing Weber State just their second loss of the conference season.

“Our guys persevered through a lot this season,” said Montana State head coach Brad Huse. “This win is exciting for our program, exciting for our university.”

The Big Sky MVP, McCoy, had an off-night and was hounded by defensive pressure from Marquis Navarre and Will Bynum. McCoy finished with just 16 points but struggled from the perimeter and hit just four of 10 field goal attempts. He also had six turnovers.

Navarre and Bynum had 17 total points and joined Branden Johnson, Erik Rush and Divaldo Mbunga in holding off a furious Weber State rally in the waning moments.

The Weber State freshman combination of Damian Lillard and Kyle Bullinger that spurned Big Sky opponents during the regular season was held in check for the majority of the game. They combined for just 10 total points.

Momentum may have swung as early as the final moments of the first half when a Bynum steal led to a thunderous transition dunk over Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year, Weber State forward Daviin Davis.

Bynum’s play and the subsequent technical foul he earned for jawing with Davis infuriated the crowd but ignited a strong run by the Bobcats to close the half.

Despite the heartbreaking loss, Weber State will continue their season in the NIT. Due to the defeat, the Wildcats will claim the conference’s automatic bid to the tournament and could possibly host a first-round game next week.

Montana State will move on to keep their streaking run through the Big Sky Tournament with a chance to take their lackluster 13-16 record to the NCAA Tournament with a victory over Portland State tomorrow night.

Vikings Stumble into Big Sky Championship

Written by: Tom Sedun, Vanguard staff

Ogden, Utah- For the second consecutive season, the Portland State Vikings have reached the Big Sky conference tournament championship game. And for the second consecutive year they reached the conference championship by defeating Idaho State.

The Vikings were able to pull out a 61-53 victory in front of 2779 at the Dee Events Center on the campus of Weber State.

The road back to the final did not come easy for the Vikings who let Idaho State rally from a 19-point halftime deficit.

“Well it wasn’t the prettiest of games but we are glad that we were able to win,” said Portland State head coach Ken Bone. “It feels great to be back in the championship game. It’s something we have been striving for all season long.”

Andre Murray led all scorers with 24 points and scored 13 of Portland State’s 19 points in the second half. “They were beating us in transition,” Murray said. “I felt I needed to score the ball for us.”

Portland State went on a 22-2 run in the first half to give the defending Big Sky champions a 42-23 halftime advantage, Phil Nelson scored 12 of his 14 in the first half.

But much like their earlier meeting in Pocatello, the Bengals opened the second half with an 18-3 run and had all the momentum late in the ball game.

“I told the guys that this game was just like that one. Idaho State is a very good team and could have very well been in the championship game,” Bone said.

With the Bengals only trailing the Vikings by three with Jeremiah Dominguez sealed the Portland State victory by hitting three free throws, all in the final minute.

“It’s great we are back in the championship game,” said the first team all Big Sky guard. “But we need to play focused for forty minutes in order to win tomorrow.”

Even though the game was not the finest performance from the Vikings, the victory was satisfying enough, at least for one night.

“A win is a win,” said Andre Murray. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a blowout or by one point, I’ll take it.”