SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Montana used a 35-12 run over the final 14 minutes of the first half, and outscored the Hornets, 21-7, in points off turnovers on the way to a 70-55 victory over Sacramento State on Thursday night at The Nest.
The loss was the third straight for Sacramento State, and dropped the team to 13-15 overall and 9-10 in the Big Sky. The Hornets' chances of clinching their first Big Sky Tournament berth since 2006 took a big hit as well. Sacramento State closes the regular season at home against Montana State on Saturday night at 7 p.m.
The top seven teams in the 11-member Big Sky qualify for the league's postseason tournament, and Weber State (13-6), Montana (12-7), North Dakota (12-8) and Northern Arizona (11-8) have all clinched spots. There are five teams still jockeying for the final three playoff spots, and Sacramento State is in that mix.
There are two scenarios that get the Hornets into the Big Sky Tournament....
1. Sacramento State wins, and Eastern Washington loses at home to Weber State.
2. Sacramento State wins, and both Portland State and Northern Colorado lose to Idaho State and Southern Utah, respectively.
Tonight's loss also snapped Sacramento State's seven-game home winning streak, which tied for the longest in the program's Div. I era (1991-pres.). Just three games ago, the Hornets throttled Northern Colorado to improve to 9-7 in the Big Sky and things were looking good for a playoff berth. However, Sacramento State dropped a pair of road games last week, and no longer controls its own destiny for a playoff spot.
Montana, which is the hottest team in the league, won its fifth straight while improving to 17-11 overall and 12-7 in the Big Sky. The Grizzlies have won each of the last 15 meetings against the Hornets dating back to 2007.
In tonight's game, Montana used a monster first half that saw the Grizzlies shoot .630 (17-27) from the field and outscore the Hornets in points off turnovers by an 18-2 margin. By the time the 35-12 run ended at the first half buzzer, Montana was in control, leading, 43-24, at halftime. The halftime deficit was the largest of the season for Sacramento State.
In the second half, the Hornets cut the lead to nine points (53-44) on a Jordan Salley dunk with 9:15 to play, but Sacramento State would get no closer. The Grizzlies led by at least nine points the final 27:53 of the contest.
The Hornets entered the game as one of the best teams in the conference in limiting the turnovers, but had problems all evening with their handle. In fact, the team's 15 turnovers were tied for the third most all season. Many of those 15 turnovers were unforced miscues as the Grizzlies finished with just five steals.
Montana finished the game shooting .543 (25-46) from the field, .400 (8-20) from the 3-point line and .706 (12-17) from the free throw line. Sacramento State, which had a 28-25 edge in the rebounding department, finished .465 (20-43) from the floor, and .313 (5-16) from the 3-point line. The Grizzlies bench also outscored the Hornet bench, 33-13.
Hornet junior Mikh McKinney was limited to just 10 points on 4-of-11 shooting, his lowest scoring output in 12 games. Junior Dylan Garrity led Sacramento State with 18 points, including 4-of-7 from the 3-point line. Salley added eight points, Zach Mills had seven points, and Nick Hornsby tallied five points, five rebounds and two steals.
For Montana, Jordan Gregory's 18 points led the way as the junior guard went 6-for-10 from the 3-point line. In fact, he striped six of the Grizzlies' eight made treys, including a three ball with 3:21 to play after the Hornets had cut the lead to 10 points. He was joined in double digits by Kareem Jamar (10 points, four rebounds and four assists) and Keron DeShields (10 points, five rebounds). Both Mario Dunn and Mike Weisner added seven points.
Saturday's game against Montana State will begin at 7:05 p.m. The Hornets will honor seniors Salley, Kendell Groom and Joey Quigley prior to the game for their contributions to the program.
NOTES -- Tonight was the first sellout of the season as 1,146 fans were in attendance…McKinney has scored in double figures in 12 straight games, and has scored at least nine points in 18 consecutive games.