MISSOULA, Mont. -- Sacramento State shot 50.0 percent (26-52) from the field and buried seven second-half 3-pointers, but it was not enough in an 82-70 loss at Montana in a Big Sky Conference men's basketball game Saturday evening at Dahlberg Arena.
While the Hornets' .500 field goal percentage was their best mark of the season against a Div. I squad, Montana was even better, shooting a blistering .580 (29-50) from the floor and .826 (19-23) from the free throw line. The Grizzlies made three more field goals and eight more free throws than the Hornets to help account for the 12-point margin of victory.
Sacramento State got off to a fast start, converting on six of its first seven shots of the game to take what turned out to be a team-best six-point lead (12-6) with 15:07 remaining. After retaking a six-point lead at 14-8 with 12:43 left, Montana closed the final 12 minutes of the half on a 29-13 run to take a 10-point halftime lead (37-27). During the run, six different Grizzlies scored, including Jordan Gregory who accounted for 12 of his game-high 20 points over the final 10:54 of the first half.
After a Mike Weisner three-point play gave Montana a 20-18 lead at the 6:51 mark of the first half, the Grizzlies never trailed again. Sacramento State cut into the halftime deficit, trailing by just six points at both the 13:14 and 7:05 marks of the second half, but each time, Montana responded with points on its next possession.
The loss dropped Sacramento State to 4-7 overall, 0-2 in the Big Sky and 1-6 on the road. The Hornets, who play their first four Big Sky games on the road, opened league play with a loss at Montana State on Thursday night.
Montana, which is the defending Big Sky regular season and tournament champions, improved to 6-5 overall and 1-1 in the conference. The Grizzlies have now defeated the Hornets on 14 straight occasions.
Montana shot .519 (14-27) in the first half, and .652 (15-23) in the second half, which helped overcome Sacramento State's 13-4 advantage in second-chance points. The Hornets put up one of their best second half outputs of the season, scoring 43 points, including knocking down 7-of-17 chances from beyond the 3-point line. The Hornets were held without a 3 ball in the first half, and their long streak of consecutive games with a 3-pointer looked to be in jeopardy. However, Sacramento State got hot in the second half, and has now converted at least one 3-pointer in 559 consecutive games, a streak which dates back to 1993.
The Hornets finished the game shooting .304 (7-23) from the 3-point line and .611 (11-18) from the free throw line. Tonight marked the first time all season Sacramento State lost a game when scoring at least 69 points as the team is now 4-1 on those occasions.
Junior forward Zach Mills had another strong performance for the Hornets, finishing with a team-high 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting from the field and five rebounds. Mills has now led the team in scoring in both conference games and is averaging 16.5 points and 6.0 rebounds on .565 (13-23) shooting from the field and .500 (5-10) from the 3-point line in league play. Entering the week, Mills, who is a transfer from Irvine Valley College, was averaging just 3.7 points and 3.0 rebounds per game.
Joining Mills in double figures for Sacramento State was junior Mikh McKinney (11 points, four rebounds) and senior Jordan Salley (10 points, team-high six rebounds, 4-of-4 shooting). McKinney entered the game as the nation's third best free throw shooter at 94.1 percent, but went just 3-of-7 from the charity stripe tonight.
Eight different Hornets had at least five points, including sophomore Case Rada who tallied a season-high nine points on 3-of-8 shooting from beyond the arc. Junior point guard Dylan Garrity added nine points, two steals and four assists, and senior Joey Quigley chipped in a season-best seven points.
For Montana, Gregory's 20 points came on 6-of-11 shooting from the field, 2-of-5 from the 3-point line, and 6-for-6 from the free throw stripe. Keron DeShields added 17 points, including what perhaps was the biggest play of the game when he converted a three-point play with 6:46 left after the Hornets had cut the Montana lead to six points. Rounding out the four Grizzlies in double figures were reigning Big Sky MVP Kareem Jamar (14 points, six assists) and Chris Kemp (10 points, game-high seven rebounds).
Sacramento State concludes its four-game road trip with a pair of games next week at Northern Arizona on Thursday and Southern Utah on Saturday. The NAU game will begin at 5:35 p.m. PST and the Southern Utah game will begin at 6:05 p.m. PST.