SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Sacramento State senior Mikh McKinney scored 27 of his career-high tying 32 points in the second half, and the Hornets closed the game on a 23-12 run to defeat Idaho, 79-76, on Thursday evening at the Nest.
With the victory, Sacramento State improved to 10-6 overall and 4-1 in the Big Sky. The Hornets' 10-6 record is the best overall mark since the 2005-06 season, and the 4-1 conference record matches their best start after five Big Sky games since joining the league in 1996-97. In addition, the Hornets snapped a 13-game losing streak against Idaho, the third longest winless stretch against any opponent in program history. The Hornets, who had never beaten Idaho in Sacramento until tonight (1-6), improved to 2-14 all-time against the Vandals. Tonight was their first win in the series since Dec. 8, 1972.
More importantly, tonight's win sets up a huge game on Saturday evening when the Hornets host Eastern Washington (13-4, 4-0) at 7:05 p.m. The winner of that game will sit all alone in first place in the 12-team Big Sky.
McKinney helped the Hornets overcome a 41-33 halftime deficit by shooting 10-of-14 from the field, 5-of-5 from the 3-point line and 2-for-3 from the free throw line in the second half. In fact, McKinney scored 27 of the Hornets' 46 second-half points, and 21 of the team's first 26 points of the second stanza. It was McKinney's 3-pointer that gave the Hornets a 73-70 lead with 3:45 to play, the team's largest lead since the 11-minute mark of the first half.
The Union City, Calif., native finished the game 12-of-19 from the field, 5-for-7 from the 3-point line and 3-of-5 from the free throw line while dishing out a game-high tying five assists and playing 39 minutes. The five 3-pointers also set a new career high.
"I made my first couple shots of the second half and gained a lot of confidence very quickly," McKinney said. "My teammates were finding me in good positions to score, and I was able to make some shots. This was a big win against a very good Idaho team, and we can't wait for the opportunity to play for first place on Saturday night."
After a Ty Egbert bucket at the 8:41 mark of the second half gave Idaho a 64-56 lead, the Hornets proceeded to rip off a 23-12 run which spanned the game's final 8:21. Among the highlights of the run included a 3-pointer from McKinney at the 4:51 mark to draw the Hornets within one at 68-67, followed 24 seconds later by a 3-point play from Cody Demps to give the Hornets their first lead (70-68) since the 7:33 mark of the first half.
From there, no team led by more than three points the rest of the way as Idaho eventually regained the lead on a lay-up from Sekou Wiggs (74-73) with 2:58 to play. The Hornets then got a pair of free throws from Dylan Garrity and Demps on consecutive possessions to reclaim a 3-point lead at 77-74 with 1:46 remaining. A dunk from Perrion Callandret cut the Idaho deficit to one point with 1:15 left and the Hornets got their final two points on free throws from Demps with six seconds left.
Idaho missed their final three shots of the evening, all 3-point attempts, including a desperation 3-ball at the buzzer by Connor Hill which drew backboard and slightly ticked iron as the final horn sounded.
Sacramento State did not do itself any favors at the free throw line, shooting just .577 (15-26) from the stripe. In fact, the Hornets had entered the game ranked 13th in the nation in free throw percentage. However, Sacramento State made the freebies when they counted most, converting on 9-of-11 opportunities during the game's final nine minutes. In a game which featured just six lead changes and three ties, the Hornets led for slightly under 13 minutes (12:50) of the entire contest.
The Hornets finished the game shooting .459 (28-61) from the field and .444 (8-18) from the 3-point line. That included burying 6-of-9 attempts from distance in the second half. Idaho shot .500 (28-56) from the field, .320 (8-25) from the 3-point line and .857 (12-14) from the free throw line. After the Vandals held a 41-33 lead at halftime, the Hornets outscored Idaho in the second half by a 46-35 margin.
"Senior leadership was huge tonight and I felt like our four seniors (McKinney, Garrity, Zach Mills and Alex Tiffin) helped us tremendously down the stretch," Sacramento State head coach Brian Katz said. "Certainly, things didn't go our way in the first half but I felt like our guys stayed very calm and came back in the second half determined.
"Idaho did a very good job defending us, we were having trouble hitting our free throws and we were facing one of the best coaches in the country in Don Verlin. But give credit to our guys, they stayed the course, didn't panic, and came out with a big victory."
Joining McKinney in double figures for the Hornets were Demps (career-high tying 17 points to go with five rebounds and four assists) and Garrity (13 points, four assists and two steals). In fact, that threesome combined to score 62 of the Hornets' 79 points. Sophomore Nick Hornsby added five points and a career-high tying nine rebounds, sophomore Eric Stuteville added six points and seven rebounds, and both Dreon Barlett and Mills had three points.
Idaho had four players score in double figures, comprised of Wiggs (22), Hill (20), Callandret (11) and Arkadiy Mkrtychyan (10 points, 10 rebounds). After Hill scored 15 points on 4-of-7 attempts from the 3-point line in the first half, the Hornets limited him to just five points in the second half.
After Saturday's game against Eastern Washington, Sacramento State will hit the road next week for a pair of road games at Idaho State and Weber State.
NOTES -- Idaho outrebounded the Hornets, 37-31, but the Hornets forced the Vandals into 17 turnovers and outscored Idaho in points off turnovers by a wide margin (22-11)…Sacramento State had been winless this season when trailing at halftime prior to tonight (1-5)…the Hornets improved to 7-1 at home this season, and have now won 11 of their last 13 games against Big Sky competition at home dating back to last year...Sacramento State is now 8-0 when shooting 40 percent or better from the 3-point line...the Hornets improved to 4-1 when playing on Thursdays.