MEN’S BASKETBALL BEATS IDAHO AT HOME, 68-65; SWEEPS THE SEASON SERIES

MEN’S BASKETBALL BEATS IDAHO AT HOME, 68-65; SWEEPS THE SEASON SERIES

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Sophomore Justin Strings had a game-high 23 points and nine rebounds, and Sacramento State used a 28-17 run over the final 11:04 to defeat Idaho, 68-65, on Saturday evening at the Nest.

After scoring a season-low 22 points while shooting just .308 (8-of-26) from the field in the first half, the Hornets put together a strong second half that saw the team outscore Idaho, 46-35. In fact, the 46 second half points more than doubled the 22-point output before halftime, and the Hornets had three different players score in double figures in the second stanza.

Idaho led for more than 26 minutes of game clock, but it was the Hornets that came through with the big buckets while turning up the defense late. During that 28-17 run, six different Sacramento State players scored, including Strings (11), Dreon Barlett (7), Cody Demps (4), Jeff Wu (3), Marcus Graves (2) and Trevis Jackson (1).

It was Strings' jumper at the 6:38 mark of the second half that gave Sacramento State its first lead (55-54) since 8-6 at the 12:50 mark of the first half. Wu followed Strings' jumper with a long 3-pointer from the right wing that gave Sacramento State a 58-54 lead, an advantage the team would not relinquish the rest of the evening.

Idaho tied the game on two occasions at 58-58 (4:22) and 60-60 (2:09), but the Vandals missed four of their last five field goal attempts spanning the last 1:16 of the contest. After a pair of free throws from Idaho's Victor Sanders tied the game at 60-60, Sacramento State immediately responded by scoring six unanswered points, including a Barlett layup with one second left on the shot clock (1:39), a pair of free throws from Strings (1:15) and two free throws from Barlett (0:31).

The Vandals made things interesting despite trailing by five points (67-62) with 17 seconds remaining, as a 3-point play from Perrion Callandret drew Idaho within, 67-65, with 10 seconds left. After Trevis Jackson split a pair of free throws at the nine-second mark (68-65), the Vandals had a chance to tie but Callandret's 3-point attempt with one second remaining bounced off the rim and into Nick Hornsby's awaiting arms as time expired.

With the victory, Sacramento State (11-14, 4-10) gets a much-needed win and finally wins on a Saturday. Entering tonight, the Hornets had been 0-9 when playing on Saturday, but put that drought to rest. In addition, Sacramento State snapped its four-game losing streak (the longest in four years) and swept the season series from Idaho. The Hornets beat the Vandals back on Jan. 28 by a 65-63 score. Sacramento State improved to 8-5 at home, and 3-4 against league opposition inside the Nest.

Idaho, which had won three straight and five of its last six, dropped to 17-11 overall and 9-6 in the conference with the loss. Sacramento State improved to just 4-15 all-time against the Vandals, but the Hornets have won three of the last four meetings between the two teams.

"Idaho is a really good team and they have won 17 games for a reason," Sacramento State head coach Brian Katz said. "We had lost four in a row, and given the way we had been playing, this qualifies as one of our best wins of the season.

"In addition, we had lost a bit of our magic on the home court so this was a very important win. Tonight, especially in the second half, felt like the way we played early in the season (when the Hornets jumped out to a 5-1 record), and we might be getting back to the level of play."

The Hornets found a way to win despite shooting just .434 (23-53) from the field, .273 (6-22) from the 3-point line and .615 (16-26) from the free throw line. However, Sacramento State had the edge in rebounding, 34-31, and improved to 6-1 when outrebounding the opposition. In addition, the Hornets had 19 assists compared to just 11 turnovers, marking the eighth straight game with 11 turnovers or less.

Idaho shot only .318 (7-22) in the second half, and finished the game shooting .422 (19-45) from the field and .781 (25-32) from the free throw line, but the Vandals connected on just 2-of-11 shots from the 3-point line. Of Idaho's 35 second-half points, 20 came from the free throw line.

Strings has now scored at least 20 points in three straight, and four of the last five games, as the sophomore poured in 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the floor and 5-for-7 from the free throw line. He also had a game-high nine rebounds and three assists without a turnover in a career-high tying 38 minutes. Strings is now averaging 16.6 points per game in conference play.

He was joined in double figures by Demps (18 points in 27 minutes before fouling out with 2:26 remaining) and Barlett (12 points in 21 minutes). All 12 of Barlett's points came in the second half when he connected on 4-of-6 shots from the field, and 2-for 4 from distance. He also buried two huge free throws to give the Hornets a 66-60 lead with 31 seconds remaining.

Nick Hornsby seemed to be involved in every play tonight, finishing with seven points, seven rebounds, four assists and three steals in 35 minutes. Those four players (Strings, Demps, Barlett, Hornsby) combined to score 60 of the Hornets' 68 points. Though Graves scored a season-low two points, he finished with a game-high seven assists and zero turnovers in 36 minutes. Wu finished with just three points, but hit arguably the biggest shot of the game when he drilled a 3-ball to give the Hornets a two-possession lead (58-54) with 5:24 left.

Four Vandals scored in double figures, comprised of Arkadiy Mkrtychyan (11 points, eight rebounds), Callandret (14 points, 2-of-9 shooting), Victor Sanders (12 points, 2-of-7 shooting) and Nahshon George (11 points in 11 minutes). Idaho pulled just four offensive rebounds the entire game and was outscored in second chance points, 11-8.

The Hornets, who have just four games remaining on the schedule, play their final two regular season road games next week at Northern Colorado on Thursday and North Dakota on Saturday. Sacramento State's final two home games will take place against Southern Utah on March 3 and Northern Arizona on March 5.