Big Sky Conference standings
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Sacramento State's Mikh McKinney had a team-high 19 points and the Hornets didn't trail the final 38:46 of the contest on the way to a 71-65 victory over North Dakota on Thursday evening at The Nest.
The Hornets shot .500 (24-48) from the field, outscored North Dakota in points off turnovers by a big margin (16-4) and limited UND to .393 shooting, including 6-of-21 from the 3-point line. In addition, Sacramento State committed a season-low seven turnovers, and led by as many as 16 points in the second half.
The win for the Hornets (12-12, 8-7) moves the team into a five-way tie for third place in the Big Sky standings with Montana, Montana State, North Dakota (11-14, 8-7) and Northern Arizona. Weber State remains in first place with an 11-4 record while Northern Colorado is second at 10-5. Eastern Washington sits in eighth place with a 7-7 record, and both Idaho State and Portland State are 7-8. With five games remaining in the regular season, the top seven teams in the league standings will qualify for the Big Sky Tournament, a place the Hornets haven't been since the 2005-06 season.
Sacramento State is arguably the hottest team in the conference, having won six of its last seven games. After beginning the season 0-3 in league play, the Hornets have won eight of their last 12 conference games. Below are a number of other notables from the team's current streak.
• The Hornets have now won six straight games at home, the longest streak since the 2005-06 team won seven in a row at home.
• The team's six-game home winning streak against Big Sky competition is the longest since joining the league in 1996-97.
• Overall, the Hornets have won six of their last seven games, matching the 2005-06 squad for the best seven-game run in the team's Div. I era (1991-pres.).
• The Hornets have matched their high for most conference wins (8) since joining the Big Sky in 1996-97 (2004-05 and 2012-13 squads also won eight).
• At 12-12, the Hornets have a shot to finish the season with an overall record above the .500 mark for the first time since joining the Div. I ranks in 1991.
• At 8-7, the Hornets have the opportunity to finish with a Big Sky record above .500 for just the second time since joining the league in 1996-97. The 2004-05 squad finished 8-6 in league. The 2003-04 squad owns the high water mark for Big Sky finish (T-2nd).
In tonight's game, UND got a dunk from Ryan Salmonson on the first possession of the game, but the Hornets went on a 21-6 run spanning the next 12:28 to take a 21-8 lead with 6:18 remaining in the first half. Six different Sacramento State players scored during the run, including Jordan Salley posting six points in a row to increase an 8-6 lead to 14-6.
After taking the 21-8 lead, the Hornets led by at least five points the rest of the way. North Dakota made things interesting with a 10-0 run late in the second half to cut a 57-41 Sacramento State lead all the way down to 57-51 with 4:06 remaining. However, the Hornets received buckets from McKinney and Cody Demps on the next two possessions to go back up 10 points.
UND eventually cut the lead to five points (64-59) with 52 seconds remaining, but Sacramento State received two free throws from true freshmen Eric Stuteville and Nick Hornsby to go back up nine points (68-59) and put the game away.
"Teams should be able to win their home games, so we've been doing what we are supposed to on our home floor," Sacramento State head coach Brian Katz said. "We're feeling pretty good about ourselves at home, but I'm more excited we've won six of our last seven games overall. Offensively, we have balance right now, and its easier to get good looks at the bucket when you have balance."
McKinney continues to punish the Big Sky as his 19 points tonight came on 7-of-13 shooting from the field, including perhaps the biggest bucket of the game with 3:11 to play which put an end to North Dakota's 10-0 run. The shooting guard is making a run at first team all-Big Sky status and has gone off over the last seven games. During that seven-game spurt, he is averaging 21.6 points, 4.7 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 1.6 steals while shooting .536 (52-97) from the field and .429 (9-21) from the 3-point line.
Joining McKinney in double figures for the Hornets was Hornsby, who finished with a season-best 15 points on 4-of-6 shooting from the field (1-for-1 from distance) and 6-of-7 from the free throw line. Zach Mills added nine points and five rebounds, Alex Tiffin had a team-best seven rebounds, Salley finished with eight points and Stuteville had seven points. Both Dylan Garrity and Cody Demps, who dealt with foul trouble, finished with five points.
Sacramento State has now shot at least 49 percent from the field in four of its last five games and the team is shooting a very proficient .487 in league play.
"Guys are shooting the ball with a lot of confidence right now and our offensive execution continues to get better," McKinney said. "Dylan (Garrity) and I, especially, are trying to get the ball to where our teammates feel comfortable, and they continue to knock down shots."
For North Dakota, Jamal Webb had a game-high 23 points and eight rebounds, but he was the only UND player to score in double figures. Senior guard Troy Huff, who entered the game second in the conference at 19.6 points per game, finished with just eight points on 3-of-10 shooting.
The Hornets return to the court on Saturday for a home game against Northern Colorado at 7:05 p.m. The game is part of a "Whiteout the Nest" promotion where the first 500 fans in attendance will receive free t-shirts.