FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- Kris Yanku knocked down a contested layup with 3.5 seconds remaining, and Mikh McKinney's 3-point attempt at the buzzer fell off the mark as Northern Arizona defeated Sacramento State, 70-68, on Saturday afternoon at the Walkup Skydome.
The loss for the Hornets was a crushing defeat as Sacramento State would have clinched the Big Sky regular season championship and hosted the conference tournament next week with a win today. In fact, the Hornets had a pair of opportunities to win the Big Sky's regular season title, but also came up short at Southern Utah, 69-65, on Thursday. In both losses, the Hornets let late leads slip away, as Sacramento State did not score the final 2:38 against Southern Utah, and did not score the final 2:45 in today's contest.
Both Montana and Eastern Washington won this evening, meaning the tournament will be in Missoula, Mont., with the Grizzlies as the No. 1 seed, followed by Eastern Washington (No. 2), Sacramento State (No. 3), Northern Arizona (No. 4), Northern Colorado (No. 5), Portland State (No. 6), Idaho (No. 7) and Weber State (No. 8).
The Hornets will take on Portland State in the 3 vs. 6 matchup on Thursday at 12:30 p.m. PDT in the Big Sky Tournament's quarterfinal round. Four games will take place in the quarterfinals, followed by a pair of semifinal games on Friday, and the championship game on Saturday. Below are the matchups.
ALL TIMES PACIFIC
10 a.m. - No. 2 Eastern Washington vs. No. 7 Idaho
12:30 p.m. - No. 3 Sacramento State vs. No. 6 Portland State
4:30 p.m. - No. 4 Northern Arizona vs. No. 5 Northern Colorado
7 p.m. - No. 1 Montana vs. No. 8 Weber State
Friday semifinals a 4:30 and 7 p.m.
Saturday championship at 6 p.m.
The Hornets conclude the regular season with a 19-10 overall record and a 13-5 Big Sky mark. The 19 overall victories are the third highest mark in program history (1948-pres.) and the 13 conference wins are most in program history.
Northern Arizona won for the 10th time in 12 games while improving to 18-13 overall and 13-5 in the Big Sky. In addition, the Lumberjacks defeated the Hornets for the 11th straight time in Flagstaff. Sacramento State's last win on NAU's home floor came in 2005. The Hornets had defeated NAU earlier this season in Sacramento by a 78-73 score.
In today's game, a jumper from McKinney gave the Hornets a 68-64 lead with 2:46 to play, but Sacramento State would not score again. Northern Arizona closed the game on a 6-0 run, which included a layup from Ako Kaluna (2:32), a pair of free throws from Kaluna (2:00) and Yanku's contested layup with three seconds left. Over that span, the Hornets missed a pair of free throws, a pair of field goal attempts and had a turnover with 19 seconds left. The turnover occurred when McKinney drove the lane, and drew heavy contact from NAU defenders as the ball trickled off his hands out of bounds.
The officials reviewed the play to see if the ball had gone off an NAU defender, but the ball remained with the Lumberjacks. NAU then drove the floor and eventually got the ball to Yanku who hit the game-winner with less than four seconds remaining. The Hornets immediately got the ball to McKinney, who raced the floor and pulled up for a 3-pointer at the buzzer which drew iron and bounced off the mark.
In a game that featured five ties and five lead changes, neither team led by more than seven points the entire second half. After Sacramento State shot .615 (16-26) in the first half to take a 39-33 halftime lead, the Hornets shot just .409 (9-22) in the second half as Northern Arizona outscored the Hornets, 37-29 after halftime.
A big factor in the game came in the rebounding department where Northern Arizona held a commanding 43-17 edge on the glass. That included 21 offensive rebounds which led to a massive 22-5 advantage in second-chance points. The Hornets had just four offensive rebounds and had trouble getting any second chance looks. Sacramento State shot .521 (25-48) from the field, .500 (8-16) from the 3-point line and .667 (10-15) from the free throw line. Two of those misses from the free throw line came with 2:18 left when true freshman Justin Strings could not convert.
Northern Arizona shot just .418 (23-55) from the field and .357 (5-14) from the 3-point line, but converted over 90 percent (19-21) of its attempts from the free throw line. The Lumberjacks also received 32 of its 70 points off the bench.
Sacramento State had three players score in double figures, comprised of McKinney (19 points, seven assists and two steals), Dreon Barlett (11 points, 3-of-4 from the 3-point line) and Dylan Garrity (10 points). McKinney scored each of the Hornets' last 12 points as he was the only Sacramento State player to score during the game's final 8:39. Thirteen of McKinney's game-high 19 points came in the second half.
The Hornets, who jumped out to a 28-18 lead with 9:51 left in the first half, also received nine points and a team-best four rebounds from Nick Hornsby, eight points from Eric Stuteville, six points from Zach Mills, and five points, five assists and two steals from Cody Demps.
Northern Arizona had four players score in double figures, including Aaseem Dixon (18 points, 7-of-14 shooting), Ako Kaluna (14 points, nine rebounds), Yanku (12 points, eight assists and three steals) and Quinton Upshur (13 points, two blocked shots). Eleven of Upshur's points came in the second half.
This marks the second straight season and sixth time the Hornets have qualified for the league's postseason event since joining the Big Sky in 1996.