HUGE 2ND HALF HELPS MEN’S BASKETBALL BEAT FIRST-PLACE MONTANA, 83-79

HUGE 2ND HALF HELPS MEN’S BASKETBALL BEAT FIRST-PLACE MONTANA, 83-79

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Sacramento State overcame a 20-point second-half deficit while outscoring Montana, 54-36, after halftime on the way to an 83-79 victory over the Grizzlies on Thursday evening at the Nest.

A 3-pointer from Brandon Gfeller gave Montana its largest lead of the game at 49-29 with 19:09 remaining, before the Hornets ripped off an impressive offensive display that would see the team score a season-best 54 points in the second half. In fact, Sacramento State closed the final 18:42 of the contest on a 54-30 run. The Hornets shot .615 (16-of-26) from the field after halftime, and, amazingly, saw four different Hornets score in double figures in the second half. Eric Stuteville (13 points, seven rebounds), Jeff Wu (11 points), Jiday Ugbaja (11 points) and Marcus Graves (10 points) all had double-figure points in the second half.

It was a Ugbaja jumper with 1:53 to play that gave Sacramento State its first lead at 76-75, and the Hornets would never trail again. That Ugbaja jumper was part of a 16-5 run for the Hornets that spanned the final 4:47, and Sacramento State was able to score on eight of its last 10 possessions to help secure the victory.

Five different Hornets scored during the 16-5 run, including Dreon Barlett (0:08) and Trevis Jackson (0:02) each burying two huge free throws to keep things at a two-possession game. The Hornets were 7-for-8 from the free throw line over the final 2:18.

The win improved the short-handed Hornets to 10-10 overall and 3-6 in the Big Sky as the team was playing its eighth straight game without team co-captain and fourth-year senior Cody Demps. The Hornets were also able to beat Montana at home in dramatic fashion for the second straight year and improve to just 7-37 all-time against the Griz. Last year, it was a Dylan Garrity 3-pointer with 6.2 seconds left that gave Sacramento State a 70-69 win at the Nest.

Perhaps more gratifying is the win came against a Montana squad (13-8, 8-2) that had been in first place in the Big Sky Conference standings, and entered the game as winners of nine of its last 10 games. The Grizzlies hadn't lost to a conference opponent on the road all season (5-0) until tonight's defeat.

Playing in front of a boisterous crowd and a raucous band, Sacramento State was able to avenge a 77-58 loss to Montana earlier this year in Missoula.

"We've been struggling with our confidence lately, and I think our guys made their minds up at halftime that things needed to change," Sacramento State head coach Brian Katz said. "Our guys played with a lot of effort and energy in the second half, and they played angry. And we needed to play angry to get this win.

"The crowd and the band were unbelievable tonight, and I think they definitely had an affect on the outcome of the game. In fact, as far as I'm concerned, the crowd and the band won this game for us."

After a sluggish first half that saw Sacramento State shoot just .333 (10-of-30) from the field and go into the locker room with a 43-29 halftime deficit, the Hornets were still able to shoot .464 (26-of-56) from the field for the game while converting on 26-of-37 free throws (.703). Sacramento State was already in the bonus with 14:36 to play, and converted on 18-of-23 free throws in the second half. The 26 made free throws were the second highest output of the year.

Sacramento State also outrebounded Montana, 39-33, and held big advantages over the Griz in second-chance points (15-6), fast break points (10-0) and points off the bench (30-22). Montana was limited to just six offensive rebounds, and the Hornets finished with seven steals, including two swipes in the final 2:22 of the contest.

Montana shot .467 (28-of-60) from the field, .474 (9-of-19) from the 3-point line and .667 (14-of-21) from the free throw line. The Hornets were able to overcome Gfeller's second-half performance that saw him shoot 5-for-6 from distance after halftime.

Five Hornets scored in double figures, comprised of Stuteville (15 points, nine rebounds, four blocks), Graves (18 points, four rebounds, five assists, 40 minutes), Ugbaja (career-high 18 points, five rebounds, two steals), Justin Strings (13 points) and Wu (11 points, career-high tying four rebounds). Prior to tonight, Ugbaja, a sophomore making his third straight start, had never scored more than eight points. Wu, who is a true freshman, scored all 11 of his points in the second half on 4-of-5 shooting from the field and 3-for-4 from distance. Four of the five Hornets who scored in double figures are underclassmen as Graves and Strings are both sophomores.

For Montana, Gfeller scored a game-high 21 points, Martin Breunig added 20 points and just four rebounds, Walter Wright had eight points and 11 rebounds, and Gavin DeJong finished with 10 points. Breunig, who is one of the premier players in the Big Sky, entered the game with an average of 9.0 rebounds per game before finishing with four tonight.

Sacramento State returns to action for another game at the Nest on Saturday evening against Montana State at 7:05 p.m.