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LATE COMEBACK FALLS SHORTS IN MEN’S HOOPS' 74-67 LOSS AT EASTERN WASH.

LATE COMEBACK FALLS SHORTS IN MEN’S HOOPS' 74-67 LOSS AT EASTERN WASH.

CHENEY, Wash. — Sacramento State closed the game on a 23-13 run, but never had an opportunity to tie late in a 74-67 loss at Eastern Washington in a Saturday afternoon matinee.

The Hornets trailed by a game-high 17 points (61-44) with 9:18 remaining in the contest, but had that lead sliced to single digits at 62-55 after Marcus Graves buried one of his career-high four 3-pointers at the 5:11 mark. From there, it was a single digit game the rest of the way.

A Graves layup at the 17-second mark had things at a one-possession game (70-67) for the first time since a 15-13 Eastern Washington lead at the 10:23 mark of the first half. However, the Hornets never had a chance to tie as the Eagles converted on four free throws during the final 16 seconds to provide the final score. Sacramento State missed a pair of 3-point opportunities during the final seven seconds.

The Eagles never trailed the entire way, and held a lead for all but 1:35 of the contest. That included EWU scoring each of the game's first six points and never looking back. Sacramento State was able to stay within striking distance by limiting Eastern Washington to 1-for-20 shooting from the 3-point line. The Eagles entered the game as the nation's seventh best team with an average of 10.8 made 3-pointers per game. That included a school-record 20 made 3-balls in Thursday's 112-83 home win over Portland State.

However, Eastern Washington controlled the inside, outscoring the Hornets, 50-32, in points in the paint. That included Eagle forward Venky Jois finishing with a game-high 24 points on 10-of-15 shooting from the field. Eastern Washington also took advantage of a massive whistle disparity that saw the Hornets called for 11 more fouls that the Eagles (23-12).

Amazingly, Sacramento State was never in the bonus free throw situation while the Eagles were in the bonus for a combined 15:37 of game clock. That proved to be a big difference in the game as EWU converted on 19-of-24 free throws while the Hornets were just 5-for-8 from the charity stripe.

Eastern Washington (11-10, 5-4), the defending Big Sky Tournament champions, improved to 8-0 at home, and 5-0 against Big Sky Conference opposition at Reese Court. The Eagles are also now 19-3 all-time against the Hornets when the two teams play in Cheney.

For Sacramento State, which shot .409 (27-of-66) from the field, the Hornets fell to 9-10 overall and 2-6 in the Big Sky. The Hornets were coming off a 65-63 road win at Idaho on Thursday night, and played without team co-captain and fourth-year senior point guard Cody Demps for the seventh straight game. The Hornets are now 2-5 in games without Demps.

It was a 23-9 run that got the Hornets all the way back from a 17-point deficit to a three-point game as Nick Hornsby sparked the spurt with nine points. Jeff Wu scored seven of his career-high tying 14 points during the run while Graves chipped in five points.

Eastern Washington finished the game shooting .474 (27-of-57) from the field, as the Eagles shot better than 70 percent (.703, 26-of-37) on attempts inside the 3-point line. The Eagles scored 69 of their 74 points from inside the paint or the free throw line as the Hornets' perimeter defense was sound all afternoon. Eastern Washington held a 39-33 edge in the rebounding department and received just three points off its bench.

Sacramento State shot .409 (27-of-66) from the field, .364 (8-of-22) from the 3-point line and .625 (5-for-8) from the free throw line. The Hornets had just 10 assists on 27 made buckets, and, after committing seven turnovers in the first half, had just three miscues in the second half. The two teams were credited with just 19 combined assists (nine for Eastern Washington).

Three Hornets finished with double figures in scoring, comprised of Graves (19 points, seven assists, five rebounds), Wu (14 points on 6-of-12 shooting) and Hornsby (11 points, five rebounds, two steals, two blocked shots). Graves shot 4-of-7 from the 3-point line while Wu was 2-for-6 from deep.

Making his second straight start, sophomore guard Jiday Ugbaja finished with a career-best eight points and sophomore Justin Strings had eight points and a team-high seven rebounds. Strings' streak of 12 straight games with double figures in scoring came to an end. Five different Hornets had at least five rebounds, comprised of Strings (7), Dreon Barlett (6), Hornsby (5), Graves (5) and center Eric Stuteville (5). Stuteville came off the bench for the second straight game and had four points, five rebounds and a blocked shot in 12 minutes.

Four of Eastern Washington's five starters finished with double figures, comprised of Jois (24 points, 12 rebounds), Bogdan Bliznyuk (18 points, 11 rebounds), Austin McBroom (16 points) and Julian Harrell (10 points, two blocks, two steals). No Eagle player finished with more than two assists.

Sacramento State returns home next week when the team hosts Montana on Thursday, and Montana State on Saturday. Both games will tip at 7:05 p.m.