Weber State basketball: Montana edges Wildcats for Big Sky title
Missoula, Mont. • With the shot clock winding down and little room for error, Kareem Jamar surveyed the scene, looking for a place to drive from his spot on the right side of the 3-point line.
Instead, the Montana forward snapped a pass to teammate Will Cherry, open on the left side.
Cherry didn't waste the opportunity, burying a 3-point dagger that all but clinched what became a thrilling Big Sky Conference Tournament championship with a 67-64 victory.
Weber State's Scott Bamforth's long-range prayer at the buzzer wasn't close.
"I already knew they were going to switch everything," Jamar said of his assist with 43 seconds to play. "I know where this man [Cherry] is on the court at all times. I knew he was going to knock it down."
Jamar finished with 20 points and his second straight tournament MVP trophy.
For Weber State (26-6) it was more pain from Dahlberg Arena, a place the Wildcats have lost six consecutive times, including last season's championship game.
"We probably came up one or two plays short," said weary Weber State coach Randy Rahe. "In a game like that, it's one or two possessions, that's where it's at. One or two possessions go our way, we're winning the game."
Those missed opportunities for Weber State came down the stretch. After the Wildcats took their final lead, 50-48, with less than nine minutes to play on a free throw by Joel Bolomboy, they missed five consecutive shots.
Three of those misses were good looks inside the paint, including two layups. Then Davion Berry missed two free throws with 2:37 to play that would have knotted the game at 59-59.
Once again, Jamar and Cherry were ultimately the difference for Montana (25-6), which has lost just one conference game this season at Weber State.
For Cherry, who finished with 18 points and thought his season was done with a foot injury late in the conference season, the victory was all the sweeter.
"Just because a couple weeks ago I thought my season was over," Cherry said. "In my mindset, I was getting ready for surgery and life after college."
Weber State would have gladly paid Cherry's medical bills had the senior guard gone under the knife.
"These last two season are probably the best two seasons in [Montana] school history," Rahe said afterward. "We ran into a little bit of a buzz saw these two years. But I don't want to take anything from our kids. This one's hard. It hurts because our kids invested in our program, in our culture and into our program."
And for a while early in the second half, it appeared WSU's investment would pay off. The Wildcats had already erased a nine-point lead in the first half and went on a 10-2 run early after halftime to open a 44-39 advantage. Davion Berry, one of three Wildcats with 12 points, spurred the rally.
During the next timeout, however, Montana regrouped, as it has all season, including when dealing with the loss of its leading scorer Mathias Ward with a broken foot.
"When you look at how far this team has come, with everything they've dealt with and how they just deflected it and continued to find ways to finish," Tinkle said of his team, pointing at Cherry and Jamar, in particular. "They've never let us down."
Storylines Grizzlies top 'Cats
R With 43 seconds to play, Montana's Will Cherry hits a 3-pointer to put the Grizzlies up 62-57.
• Tournament MVP Kareem Jamar and Cherry combine for 38 points and eight assists.