Big Sky Conference standings
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- On a festive Senior Night that included numerous standing ovations from another sellout crowd, Sacramento State moved into a tie for first place in the Big Sky Conference after beating North Dakota, 74-66, on Saturday evening at the Nest.
On a night when Hornet seniors Dylan Garrity, Mikh McKinney, Alex Tiffin and Zach Mills were honored prior to the game, this evening's win moved Sacramento State (18-8, 12-3) past Eastern Washington into a tie for first place with Montana (11-3). Just a game and a half separate the top four teams in the Big Sky with two weeks remaining in the regular season.
Behind the Hornets and Grizzlies are Eastern Washington (11-3) and Northern Arizona (10-4). Sacramento State and Montana have just three games remaining while Eastern Washington and Northern Arizona have four games left. Everything will be decided by March 7, and the winner of the regular season will host the Big Sky Tournament on March 12-14. The winner of the league's postseason event will receive an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.
As has been the case all season, a number of milestones fell tonight at the Nest. Here is a quick glimpse of some of those....
• Sacramento State concludes its home portion of the regular season schedule with a 13-1 record inside the Nest, which matches the program record for most home victories in a single season (the 1987-88 squad went 13-2).
• The Hornets' winning percentage at home (.929) is the second best in program history (1948-pres.), trailing the 1961-62 squad's perfect 12-0 home record.
• With three games still remaining in the regular season, the Hornets' 12 Big Sky wins are already the most since joining the league prior to the 1996-97 season.
• At 18-8 overall, the Hornets' 18 victories are the most since the 1987-88 season, and tied for the third most in program history.
• Sacramento State's 18-8 record is also tied for the second best mark in program history after 26 games, trailing only the 1987-88 squad's 21-5 record.
• Sacramento State improved its program-record home winning streak vs. Big Sky teams to 10 straight, a stretch which dates back to last year.
• Overall, the Hornets have now won nine straight home games, the longest streak since 1972, and tied for the second longest streak in school history.
In a game that featured five ties, six lead changes, and numerous runs, it was a 21-10 run that erased a 36-35 deficit, and put the Hornets on top, 56-46 with 7:57 to play. The run, which spanned just under eight and half minutes of the second half, was highlighted by back-to-back 3-pointers from McKinney at the 14:55 and 14:18 marks. A Nick Hornsby layup punctuated the run and gave the Hornets the 56-46 lead.
North Dakota (8-18, 4-11) would get no closer than within six points the rest of the way as the Hornets made each of their final six free throw attempts over the last 1:30 to help put the game out of reach.
Tonight's attendance of 1,231 marked the fifth straight standing-room only crowd to watch and help the Hornets to yet another win in the 59-year old building called the Nest. In fact, Sacramento State will finish the regular season as the only team in the Big Sky to go undefeated at home in league play.
The Hornets finished the game shooting .464 (26-56) from the field, a school-record .727 (8-11) from the 3-point line and .737 (14-19) from the free throw line. Sacramento State also forced North Dakota into 12 turnovers and scored on nearly every one of those miscues, posting a 19-6 advantage in points off turnovers. In addition, the Hornets outrebounded North Dakota, 33-30, and had 20 assists on 26 made buckets. After shooting just .375 (12-32) in the first half, Sacramento State shot a blistering .583 (14-24) from the field in the second half.
North Dakota shot .451 (23-51) from the field and .875 (14-16) from the free throw line, but converted on just 6-of-22 from beyond the arc. That included missing seven of their nine 3-point attempts in the second half.
"After getting off to another slow start to start the game (3 for their first 15 from the field), I liked the way our guys stayed with it, and executed down the stretch," Sacramento State head coach Brian Katz said. "Even when we weren't connecting on offense, we didn't that let affect our play on the defensive end.
"Trying to win the Big Sky is day to day, moment to moment, fourth down and one, and its definitely on. We can't worry about anyone else. We don't scoreboard watch, and all that stuff doesn't matter. Simply put, we have to win.
"As time goes on, this year's seniors will be remembered as the guys that got this thing turned around. All four of them. They are names that will be remembered forever, I really feel that way."
Speaking of the seniors, all four had a large hand in tonight's win, including McKinney who finished with 16 points, five assists, two steals and just one turnover in slightly under 40 minutes. Garrity had 12 points, three rebounds and didn't miss a shot from the field, finishing 4-for-4 from the floor, and 3-for-3 from distance. Mills had 13 points and shot 5-of-7 from the floor while playing 29 minutes. And Tiffin had four points and four rebounds before fouling out with 26 seconds to play. Tiffin received a large ovation from the crowd as he walked off the court after that fifth foul, and the other three seniors were taken out of the game 12 seconds later to a thunderous ovation from the admiring fans.
Hornet sophomore Nick Hornsby was one of the best players on the floor all evening, finishing with his first career double-double which included 17 points, 11 rebounds and four steals in 28 minutes. Junior Cody Demps added seven points, a career-high nine assists and zero turnovers in 37 minutes.
For North Dakota, Quinton Hooker had a game-high 20 points to go along with eight rebounds in 39 minutes. He was joined in double figures by Jaron Nash's 17 points as the duo of Hooker and Nash combined for 37 of the team's 66 points.
Sacramento State will play its final three games on the road at Portland State (Feb. 28), Southern Utah (March 5) and Northern Arizona (March 7).