CEDAR CITY, Utah -- Southern Utah's Damon Heuir had a game-high 28 points and the Thunderbirds outscored the Hornets, 53-28, in the second half on the way to a 79-67 victory over Sacramento State in a Big Sky Conference game Thursday evening at Centrum Arena.
The Hornets played arguably their worst half of the season in the second frame, shooting just 4-for-23 from the field (.174) and 0-for-8 from the three-point line. They were also outrebounded in the half, 22-13, and tallied zero assists, steals and blocks. The team also had seven turnovers in the second half after committing just one during the first half.
One major factor in Sacramento State's spiral was the loss of center , who injured his left knee early in the first half and did not return. In fact, he had six points and two rebounds during the game's first six minutes of the contest, and once he exited at the 14:18 mark, the Hornets got pummelled on the glass. The Big Sky's top rebounding team in conference play, Sacramento State was outrebounded, 41-26, and the Thunderbirds scored 16 points off 14 offensive rebounds.
Still, the Hornets played a solid first half, and behind 's 11 first-half points, Sacramento State went into halftime with a comfortable 39-26 lead. In fact, the 13-point advantage was the largest halftime lead of the season.
That lead, however, was sliced to one point just five minutes into the second half as the Thunderbirds opened the half on a 13-2 run to trail, 41-39, with 14:59 remaining. Sacramento State eventually pushed its lead back to six points (47-41) on a jumper, but the Thunderbirds answered with another big run. This time, Southern Utah went on a 21-5 run spanning 8:15 of game clock to take a 62-52 lead with 4:57 left. When combining the two big second-half runs, the Thunderbirds outscored the Hornets, 36-13, during the half's first 15 minutes. Sacramento State would get no closer than within six points of the T-Bird lead the rest of the way.
With the loss, the Hornets, who put together two nice home wins last week, dropped to 10-9 overall and 5-6 in the conference. No matter what the season, the team has always had trouble winning in Cedar City, falling to 1-10 when playing on Southern Utah's home floor. Sacramento State now finds itself in a two-way tie for fifth place with North Dakota in the conference standings with nine games remaining in the regular season. Southern Utah and Montana State both sit one game ahead of the Hornets with 6-5 records.
The Thunderbirds, who avenged their loss earlier this season to the Hornets in Sacramento, improved to 7-12 overall and 6-5 in the Big Sky. Southern Utah is now 7-3 at home this season, including 5-2 against conference opposition.
Overall, the Thunderbirds shot 50.0 percent from the field (27-54), including 60.0 percent in the second half, while also connecting on 5-of-13 three-point attempts (.385) and 20-of-27 free throw attempts (.741). They also outscored the Hornets in points in the paint (35-20) and fast break points (17-2). In fact, the 17 fast break points were easily the most allowed by Sacramento State all season.
The Hornets finished the game shooting 32.0 percent (16-50) from the field, 25.0 percent (4-16) from the three-point line and 88.6 percent (31-35) from the free throw line. Amazingly, Sacramento State was credited with just five assists the entire evening. The field goal percentage was the second lowest mark of the season.
Sacramento State was led by 's 18 points as the sophomore point guard went 10-of-11 from the free throw line while also tallying two assists and a steal in 33 minutes. He was joined in double figures by McKinney (17 points, 10-of-11 from the free throw line) and Dickson (14 points, 7-of-8 free throw shooting). No other Hornet had more than six points, and no Hornet grabbed more than four rebounds. Sacramento State's backups at the center position, and , combined for four points, three rebounds and nine fouls in 17 minutes played.
For Southern Utah, Heuir shot poorly from the field (6-for-17), but made a living at the free throw line, cashing in 13-of-14 opportunities to help aid his game-high 28 points. Jackson Stevenett had 20 points and six rebounds while Cal Hanks had 11 points and seven rebounds. Four different Thunderbirds had seven rebounds, including Heuir, Jayson Cheesman and Wade Collie.
Sacramento State will return home for arguably its biggest week of the season as the team will play three games over a span of six days inside the friendly confines. That stretch includes contests against Northern Arizona on Monday, Eastern Washington on Thursday and Portland State on Saturday. All three games will tip at 7:05 p.m.
NOTES -- Sacramento State had been 10-1 when attempting more free throws than the opposition prior to tonight…the Hornets' 31 made free throws tied a Div. I era (1991-pres.) single-game record, originally set against Eastern Washington on Feb. 3, 2005…the all-time school record is 34 made free throws, set during the 1967-68 and 1971-72 seasons…the 26 rebounds were the second fewest of the season for the Hornets.