SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Five Hornets scored in double figures, led by senior Dylan Garrity's game-high 26 points, as Sacramento State opened Big Sky Conference play with a 78-73 win over Northern Arizona Thursday evening at the Nest.
Sacramento State, which led for nearly 38 minutes of the contest, improved to 7-5 overall and 1-0 in the Big Sky while Northern Arizona dropped to 5-9 and 0-1 in the league. The Hornets also improved to 5-1 at home this season, 26-8 at the Nest dating back to 2012-13, and have now won nine of their last 11 games against Big Sky teams inside the friendly confines.
In a game which lasted over two hours, featured 46 combined fouls, 60 free throw attempts and just 14 turnovers, it was the Hornets who shot their way to victory. Sacramento State shot .510 (26-51) from the field, a season-high .692 (9-13) from the 3-point line and .773 (17-22) from the free throw line. That included the team connecting on 7-of-8 from beyond the arc in the second half. In fact, that .692 3-point percentage wasn't far off the team's Div. I record of .706, set in 2008.
The bulk of those three balls came off the finger tips of Garrity, who finished 5-for-9 from the field, 5-of-7 from the 3-point line and 11-of-12 from the free throw line. Twenty-three of those points came in the second half and Garrity went 9-of-10 from the free throw line over the final six minutes to help ice the win. Five of those free throws came during the final 37 seconds.
Including his career-high 28 points last Saturday against Utah Valley, Garrity has been phenomenal over the last two games. During that two-game stretch, he is averaging 27.0 points on .722 (13-18) shooting from the field, .786 (11-14) from the 3-point line and .944 (17-18) from the free throw line.
Sacramento State looked to be in control after a pair of Garrity free throws gave the Hornets a 68-56 lead with 5:31 remaining. However, NAU stormed back, using a 12-2 run over the next three minutes to close within, 70-68, with 2:24 to play. During that run, the Hornets committed four turnovers (they had just eight the entire game), and saw two of their players foul out, including Cody Demps and Nick Hornsby.
After NAU chopped the lead to 70-68, Hornet senior guard Mikh McKinney made perhaps the biggest shot of the evening, burying a 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down to put the Hornets up, 73-68, with 1:46 remaining. The Lumberjacks cut the deficit to four points at the 24-second and nine-second mark of the game, but could not make it a one-possession game.
Northern Arizona, which has wins over Saint Mary's and Fresno State under its belt, shot .429 (21-49) from the field and just 6-of-18 from the 3-point line. The Lumberjacks took advantage of 26 Sacramento State fouls and went to the free throw line 38 times. Fortunately for the Hornets, NAU made just 25 of those freebie opportunities (.658).
Three Hornets fouled out of the game (Demps, Hornsby and Zach Mills) and NAU had 16 more free throw attempts than the Hornets. Despite Sacramento State committing just eight turnovers, NAU held a 12-2 advantage in points off turnovers. The Lumberjacks also held a 33-28 advantage in the rebounding department and a 12-7 edge in second chance points. Sacramento State outscored Northern Arizona in both the first (31-27) and second (47-46) halves.
"One of the big focuses of our game plan was eliminating the 3-point shooting of Quinton Upshur (1-for-4) and Aaseem Dixon (2-for-6), and we got that accomplished for the most part," Sacramento State head coach Brian Katz said. "When those two guys make their 3-pointers, they win. NAU is a high energy, high effort team and they got us on the boards (11 offensive rebounds). In fact, NAU really played hard tonight and I like the way they play their system.
"We've told our guys the Big Sky schedule is going to be 18 fist fights, there are no bad teams in this league and no one is going away. This is the first of many hard fought games going forward."
Joining Garrity in double figures for Sacramento State were center Eric Stuteville (season-high 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting to go with five rebounds), Demps (13 points, five rebounds), Mills (12 points) and McKinney (11 points and eight assists in a game-high 38 minutes). Coincidentally, those five players, including Garrity, combined for all 78 of Sacramento State's points tonight.
Both teams used an eight-man rotation throughout the contest as NAU had four players score in double figures, comprised of Upshur (18 points, 9-of-12 from the free throw line), Jordyn Martin (14 points, seven rebounds), Dixon (11 points) and Ako Kaluna (11 points). Kris Yanku added nine points, 10 assists, six rebounds and four steals.
Sacramento State, which entered the game leading the Big Sky with 8.0 steals per game, had just one steal as NAU turned the ball over six times.
The Hornets will play again at home on Saturday evening against Southern Utah. Game time is 7:05 p.m.
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