GREELEY, Colo. -- Northern Colorado attempted 19 more free throws and held a 36-20 rebounding advantage on the way to a 72-62 victory over Sacramento State in a Big Sky Conference men's basketball game Saturday evening at Butler-Hancock Pavilion.
In a game that was closer than the final score indicated, the Hornets shot well from the field (.469, 23-for-49) and the free throw line (.833, 10-for-12), but could not overcome a 15-6 deficit in second-chance points. The Bears, who are tied for first place in the Big Sky with Weber State, had 14 offensive rebounds compared to just five for the Hornets.
Sacramento State was also whistled for 24 fouls, compared to just 14 for the Bears. Northern Colorado used that to its advantage, making 26-of-31 tries at the free throw line while the Hornets received just 12 freebies. In fact, the Bears found themselves in the bonus at the 10:01 mark of the second half, and went to the free throw line a robust 18 times in the second stanza, converting 16 of those tries. Thirteen of Northern Colorado's final 19 points of the game came at the free throw line.
Neither team led by more than six points the first 30 minutes of the contest. The Hornets never led in the second half, but tied the game twice and had it cut to a one possession game a number of times, but could not get over the hump.
The Bears led, 37-34, at halftime and both teams battled back and forth the first eight minutes of the second half. A modest 6-0 run gave Northern Colorado a 55-47 lead after a pair of free throws with 10:01 remaining. The Hornets stayed within striking distance the rest of the way, but could never whittle the lead down to a one possession game. Sacramento State had three wide open looks at a 3-pointer that would have cut the lead to four points with a minutes to play, but missed each attempt. The Hornets eventually cut the lead to six points with 27 seconds remaining, but Northern Colorado scored the game's final four points.
Sacramento State dropped to 6-11 overall and 2-6 in the Big Sky. The Hornets have played six of their first eight conference games away from home (most in the league), and that stretch mercifully came to an end tonight. The schedule gets a lot friendlier for Sacramento State as the team opens up a season-long four-game homestand on Thursday vs. Idaho State. In fact, eight of the team's final 12 games of the season will come inside the friendly confines.
Northern Colorado (13-4, 7-1) improved to 11-0 at home and 6-0 against Big Sky teams. The team has been the beneficiary of a schedule that has seen them play six of their first eight conference games at home.
The Bears shot .438 from the field (21-48) and converted on two less field goals than the Hornets, but the free throws were too much for Sacramento State to overcome. Northern Colorado outscored the Hornets in points in the paint (28-16), points off turnovers (12-6), and bench points (25-11).
Sacramento State got the bulk of its scoring from the trio of junior Mikh McKinney (16 points, six assists), sophomore Cody Demps (16 points, two blocks, 35 minutes) and junior Dylan Garrity (14 points, three assists, game-high 36 minutes). In fact, those three combined for 46 of the Hornets' 62 points. The 16 points for Demps matched a career high, set earlier this season against UC Irvine. Garrity, who scored the Hornets' first eight points of the game, is now averaging 15.8 points over his last five games.
True freshman Eric Stuteville added six points. Junior Zach Mills entered the game as the Hornets' second leading scorer in conference play, but was limited to just two points on 1-of-6 shooting.
Northern Colorado has dominated the glass all season, and tonight was no different as nary a Hornet posted more than three rebounds. The Bears got 18 points from Tim Huskisson and 14 points and 12 rebounds from Derrick Barden. Tate Unruh, who entered the game as Northern Colorado's second leading scorer, was limited to just two points, all made at the free throw line.
Sacramento State's four-game homestand features games against Idaho State (Jan. 30), Weber State (Feb. 1), Northern Arizona (Feb. 6) and Southern Utah (Feb. 10).