MEN’S HOOPS TAKES OVER FIRST PLACE, BEATS EASTERN WASHINGTON 90-77

MEN’S HOOPS TAKES OVER FIRST PLACE, BEATS EASTERN WASHINGTON 90-77

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- In a battle for first place in the Big Sky Conference standings, Sacramento State shot a season-best .633 (31-49) from the field while dishing out a season-high tying 25 assists to defeat Eastern Washington, 90-77, on Saturday evening at the Nest.

With the victory, the Hornets (11-6, 5-1) took over sole possession of first place in the Big Sky standings, have won six of their last seven games, improved to 8-1 at home, and now own their best conference record after six games since joining the Big Sky in 1996-97. The 11-6 overall record is the program's best mark since the 2005-06 season, and the Hornets improved to 4-0 against Big Sky opposition at home. Prior to tonight, the Hornets had never been in first place in the Big Sky standings this late in the season.

Eastern Washington, which had won five straight games, dropped to 13-5 overall and 4-1 in the Big Sky. There are three teams sitting in a tie for second place with 4-1 league records, including Northern Colorado and Montana. The Eagles entered the week ranked 13th in this week's Collegeinsider.com mid-major poll and were a Big Sky-best 55th in the NCAA RPI rankings.

The Hornets shot a robust .727 (16-22) from the field in the second half while outscoring the Eagles, 49-36, in the second stanza after the game had been tied at halftime, 41-41. Sacramento State led the final 17:47 of the game, and finished with just 11 turnovers to go with its 25 assists.

The Hornets used a 20-8 run spanning eight minutes of the second half to turn a 46-45 deficit into a game-high 11-point lead (65-54) with 10:03 remaining in the contest. Dreon Barlett, who was perfect from long range tonight, drained his career-high fourth 3-pointer to cap the rally and send the near-sellout crowd into a frenzy. The Hornets led by at least four points the rest of the way, and went 7-for-8 from the free throw line during the final 1:07 of the contest.

In fact, after a pair of free throws from Tyler Harvey cut the Eagles' deficit to four points (77-73) with 3:54 to play, Sacramento State scored on six of its final seven possessions while Eastern Washington could manage just four points the rest of the way. The Hornets were proficient with their shooting from everywhere on the floor, not only finishing with a high field goal percentage, but also connecting on 7-of-13 (.538) 3-point attempts, and 21-of-26 (.808) from the free throw line. Sacramento State shot at least 55 percent from the field and scored better than 40 points in both halves.

Hornet junior Cody Demps played brilliantly, finishing with a career-high 22 points to go along with four rebounds, five assists and a steal. He shot 6-of-10 from the field, 10-for-10 from the free throw line, and 16 of his points came in the second half. The 22 points easily surpassed his previous career high of 17, which he set on a pair of occasions.

Senior guard Mikh McKinney had a big hand in running a crisp Hornet offense that manufactured numerous open looks at the rim. McKinney finished with 14 points and a career-high 12 assists to go along with six steals in 39 minutes. He finished the game 6-of-13 from the field and posted a 4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio (12 assists, three turnovers). Three Hornets had at least five assists, including Dylan Garrity who finished with a well balanced line of seven points, five rebounds, six assists and a steal in 32 minutes.

"Tonight was a nice, well rounded effort and I was very pleased with the ball movement and the assists," Sacramento State head coach Brian Katz said. "Eastern Washington game planned to stop Mikh (McKinney) and Dylan (Garrity), and those two were able to combine for 18 assists. Both those guys didn't force the issue and found open looks for their teammates. I also felt that Cody (Demps) was huge tonight, and played one of the best games of his career.

"We are in first place right now, but that doesn't mean much because we are only a third of the way into the season. If we are in first place after 18 (conference) games, then its cause for celebration. But right now, we can't get euphoric because that would be a mistake. I'm happy we are 5-1 in league and sitting in first place, but there is still a lot of work to be done."

Joining Demps and McKinney in double figures for the Hornets were Barlett (12 points on 4-for-4 shooting from the 3-point line) and sophomore Nick Hornsby (12 points and five rebounds in 30 minutes). Sacramento State had eight different players score at least six points, including seniors Zach Mills (nine points, six rebounds) and Alex Tiffin (six points), and sophomore Eric Stuteville (six points, three blocked shots). All nine Hornets that appeared in tonight's game shot at least 40 percent from the field.

Eastern Washington, which took its largest lead of the game at four points (34-30) with 5:57 remaining in the first half, finished the game shooting .466 (27-58) from the field, .333 (9-27) from the 3-point line and a perfect 14-for-14 from the charity stripe. The Eagles entered the game as the nation's sixth best 3-point shooting team (.415), but went just 9-of-27 from distance tonight. That included 3-for-13 in the second half.

Eagle junior guard Tyler Harvey, who is the nation's leading scorer and 3-point shooter, scored 21 points on 6-of-12 from the field and 3-for-7 from the 3-point line. Harvey also had five turnovers while playing all 40 minutes of the contest. He was joined in double figures by Bogdan Bliznyuk (19 points on 7-of-8 shooting and 10 rebounds), Drew Brandon (13 points, six rebounds) and Ognjen Miljkovic (11 points).

The 90 points were the most allowed by the Eagles this season, and the Hornets' .633 field goal percentage was also the highest mark by an EWU opponent. Eastern Washington held a slight edge in the rebounding department (27-25), but was forced into 14 turnovers.

Sacramento State returns to action next week when the team travels to Idaho State on Thursday and Weber State on Saturday.

NOTES -- The Hornets' 90 points tied for their most against a Div. I opponent this season (Southern Utah)…in Big Sky play, the Hornets are averaging 78.8 points per game, and their field goal percentage (.524) and 3-point field goal percentage (.461) are easily the top marks in the conference…McKinney is now averaging 2.94 steals per game, the second best mark in the nation…the Hornets have won five of the last six meetings against Eastern Washington.