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Big Sky Conference standings

CEDAR CITY, Utah -- Sacramento State missed its last five shots, and was held scoreless the final 2:38 of the game, as the Hornets lost their first opportunity to clinch the Big Sky Conference championship with a 69-65 setback at Southern Utah on Thursday evening at Centrum Arena.

The loss dropped Sacramento State (19-9, 13-4) into a three-way tie for first place with Montana (13-4) and Eastern Washington (13-4). However, the Hornets own the tiebreaker over both teams, and a win on Saturday afternoon in the regular season finale at Northern Arizona (12-5) would give Sacramento State its first conference championship since 1977, and first since joining the Big Sky in 1996. The game will tip-off at 1:05 p.m. PST, and will be televised live on both FSN Arizona (DirecTV 686; Dish 415) and FCS Atlantic.

Should the Hornets win on Saturday, Sacramento State would host the Big Sky Tournament on campus at the WELL from March 12-14. The WELL is a 151,000 square foot recreation and wellness center that was built in 2010 and currently has 22,000 members.

Not only did the Hornets miss an opportunity to clinch the team's first-ever Big Sky title, but Sacramento State also was attempting to win 20 games for just the third time in school history (1961-62, 1987-88). Currently ranked 14th in the nation in the CollegeInsider.com Mid Major poll, the Hornets had won three straight and 10 of the last 12 prior to tonight's loss.

Southern Utah (10-18, 7-10), which remains one of the hottest teams in the league, has now won five of its last seven games. In addition, the Thunderbirds improved to 4-4 at home in Big Sky play, and 9-3 when playing the Hornets in Cedar City.

In a game that featured 11 lead changes, neither team led by more than five points the final 16 minutes of the contest. In fact, Sacramento State and Southern Utah traded buckets on five straight possessions late in the game, with each basket resulting in a one-point lead. The Hornets held a 65-64 lead after a Nick Hornsby turnaround with 2:39 to play. Hornsby then came up with a steal on Southern Utah's next possession and Sacramento State set up a play for Dylan Garrity, who missed an open 3-pointer from the corner that would have given the Hornets a four-point lead with 1:43 left.

Garrity, who is one of the best shooters in the conference and in school history, uncharacteristically went 1-for-9 from the field and 1-for-5 from beyond the arc. In fact, the Hornets, as a team, shot just 2-for-8 from distance while Southern Utah was much more proficient from long range, converting at a .474 clip (9-for-19).

After the Garrity miss, Southern Utah got jumpers from Juwan Major (1:31) and Trey Kennedy (0:48), and a free throw from John Marshall (0:09) to provide the final score.

After the Hornets shot a high percentage (.591) from the field in the first half, Sacramento State shot just .385 (10-26) in the second half and finished with a respectable .479 percentage. However, Southern Utah shot .611 (11-18) from the floor in the second half and finished the game .543 (25-46) from the field and .474 (9-19) from the 3-point line. The Thunderbirds outscored the Hornets in the first (37-36) and second (32-29) halves.

Neither team led by more than eight points the entire game as the back and forth affair featured just 15 total turnovers and 23 assists. Sacramento State had just six turnovers, but the Thunderbirds were able to score off each of those miscues and finished with a 12-10 edge in points off turnovers. Both teams had 27 rebounds, and the Thunderbirds' bench outscored the Hornets by a 23-8 margin.

For Sacramento State, senior Mikh McKinney led the way with a game-high 19 points, including four rebounds and a steal in 37 minutes. He scored 13 of those points in the second half. Junior guard Cody Demps added 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting to go with five rebounds and four assists in 37 minutes. Together, McKinney and Demps combined for 35 of the Hornets' 65 points.

Sophomore Nick Hornsby added eight points and a game-high eight rebounds, Garrity had seven points and four rebounds, and senior Alex Tiffin had six points and two rebounds. Sophomore Eric Stuteville had seven points and two steals, all coming in the first half.

Southern Utah had three players finish in double figures, comprised of James McGee (14 points, 4-of-5 from the 3-point line), Juwan Major (13 points, 1-of-1 from distance) and A.J. Hess (10 points, 2-of-3 from distance). The threesome combined to shoot 7-of-9 from long range.