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Big Sky Conference standings

PORTLAND, Ore. – Three Hornets scored in double figures, led by Mikh McKinney's game-high 21 points, and Sacramento State closed the game on a 20-9 run to defeat Portland State, 73-60, on Saturday evening at the Stott Center.

Sacramento State improved to 19-8 overall and 13-3 in the Big Sky Conference, and, more importantly, is just one win away from clinching the conference's regular season championship. The Hornets have two games remaining, and both are on the road next week on Thursday at Southern Utah and Saturday at Northern Arizona.

Should the Hornets win one of those games, they would earn the right to host the Big Sky Tournament as the No. 1 seed on March 12-14 at the WELL on Sacramento State's campus. The winner of the Big Sky Tournament receives an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament, a place the Hornets have not been since joining the Div. I ranks in 1991. A regular season title would also guarantee Sacramento State an automatic berth into the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) should the team not win the Big Sky Tournament.

As it stands now, Sacramento State is all alone in first place with a 13-3 league record, followed by Montana (13-4), Eastern Washington (12-4) and Northern Arizona (11-5). The Hornets got help today when both Eastern Washington and Northern Arizona lost their games.

The 19 wins are also the third most in school history (1948-pres.), a remarkable turnaround for a program that entered the year with just three winning seasons in the last 38 years. In addition, the 13 Big Sky wins are the most conference victories in school history for any of the five conferences Sacramento State has been affiliated with since the school added men's basketball in 1948.

The Hornets' 19-8 record is the second best in school history after 27 games (the 1987-88 squad owns the best mark at 22-5). In addition, Sacramento State now has six road wins, tied for its second most in the Div. I era (1991-pres.)

The Hornets are also one win shy of the program's third 20-win season - the 1987-88 squad finished 22-8; the 1961-62 squad finished 21-10. Both those teams qualified for the NCAA Div. II Tournament.

In tonight's game, Sacramento State broke open what had been a close game by going on a 20-9 run over the final 6:11 of the contest. Four Hornets scored during the run, including McKinney who had eight points, and Sacramento State went 10-for-10 from the free throw line over the final 1:28 to ice the win.

Sacramento State shot .463 (25-54) from the field and .909 (20-22) from the free throw line while forcing Portland State into 17 turnovers. In fact, the Hornets, who had just six turnovers, outscored the Vikings in points off turnovers by a 20-5 margin. Sacramento State outscored the Vikings, 31-27 in the first half, and 42-33 in the second half.

"Tonight was back and forth, but just like a lot of times this year, our guys grinded it out and figured out a way to win," Sacramento State head coach Brian Katz said. "Its never easy in this conference, and there isn't much separation between the top teams and the bottom teams, and you just have to stay the course.

"We are close to a conference title, but we haven't won anything yet. We will stick with the same recipe we've followed all year, and we won't look any further ahead than the next game. Thursday's opponent, Southern Utah, is a much improved team, they played us well in Sacramento and I anticipate a highly competitive game."

Making tonight's win even sweeter is it came in front of a sellout crowd of 1,500 at the Stott Center. A good portion of those patrons were Sacramento State fans, who took up nearly an entire section and were loud throughout the evening.

In a game that featured 10 ties and six lead changes, Sacramento State got solid production from its starters. In fact, all five starters had at least six points and three rebounds, and the fivesome combined for 10 steals. McKinney finished with 21 points, four assists and two steals, Dylan Garrity had 15 points and two steals, Nick Hornsby had 10 points, eight rebounds and five steals, Cody Demps added eight points, five rebounds and four assists, and Eric Stuteville had six points and three rebounds.

In addition, Sacramento State received nine points from Zach Mills, and four points and four rebounds from Alex Tiffin. The Hornets didn't shoot particularly well from beyond the 3-point arc (3-for-12), but made up for it with the free throw shooting and the large turnover disparity.

For Portland State, Tiegbe Bamba led the way with 13 points and eight rebounds while DaShaun Wiggins had 11 points and six rebounds.

The Hornets' game on Thursday at Southern Utah will begin at 6:05 p.m. PST, and the game on Saturday at Northern Arizona will begin at 1:05 p.m. PST.