MOSCOW, Idaho -- Idaho closed the final 7:27 of the second half on a 15-3 run to eventually defeat Sacramento State, 69-68, on Thursday evening at Cowan Spectrum.
Sacramento State was done it by a pair of Idaho runs that closed both the first and second halves. The Vandals finished the first half on a 14-2 run (spanning 3:40), and used the second half run to their advantage. In fact, during those two spurts, Idaho combined to outscore Sacramento State, 29-5, over 11:17 of game clock. During the rest of the game, Sacramento State outscored the Vandals by a 63-40 margin.
Nothing was more gut wrenching than the final 7:27, which saw Sacramento State miss 10 of its last 11 field goal attempts. A pair of Kevin Hicks free throws gave the Hornets their largest lead of the game at 11 points (65-54) with 7:42 remaining. However, Idaho immediately responded with an improbable 15-0 run to take a four-point lead at the 1:50 mark. The Hornets did not score for 6:50 of game clock during the run, which included eight missed field goal attempts, a pair of missed free throws and a turnover.
An Izayah Mauriohooho-Le'afa 3-pointer (his fifth of the game) finally broke the drought and cut the deficit to one point (69-68) with 50 seconds left. Sacramento State then forced an Idaho miss, setting up the Hornets with a chance to win and 21 seconds remaining. Sacramento State ran about 10 seconds off the clock before running a play, which found Kevin Hicks in the corner for an open 3-point look that missed at the seven second mark. His shot rimmed out, but Justin Strings grabbed the offensive rebound and his heavily contested, off-balance putback from about seven feet away drew rim, backboard and rim again before trickling out. Idaho grabbed the rebound as time expired.
The game featured six ties, six lead changes, and Sacramento State held a lead for 21:24 of game clock.
With the loss, Sacramento State, which was playing its first Big Sky Conference road game of the season, dropped to 4-11 overall and 1-1 in the league. The Hornets were coming off last week's 80-75 home win over Portland State, which was ranked 20th in the Mid-Major Top 25 poll at the time.
Idaho, selected as the conference favorites in both the Big Sky preseason coaches and media polls, improved to 10-5 and 2-1 in the conference. The Vandals were playing their first league home game and have yet to lose on the home floor this season (5-0). Sacramento State is now 4-17 all-time against Idaho, including a 2-11 record when playing in Moscow.
The Hornets were inches away from starting the season 2-0 in league play for just the third time since joining the conference prior to the 1996-97 season.
Sacramento State, which trailed by eight at halftime before outscoring the Vandals by a 39-32 margin in the second half, converted on a season-high 12 3-pointers. The Hornets finished the game shooting 44% (22-50) from the field, 42% (12-29) from the 3-point line and 71% (12-17) from the free throw line. That included seven makes from distance in the second half. Five different Hornets converted on 3-pointers including Mauriohooho-Le'afa (5-10), Strings (3-6), Jordan Tolbert (2-5), Jeff Wu (1-1) and Hicks (1-6).
Not only did the half-ending runs hurt the Hornets, Idaho outrebounded Sacramento State, 36-30, and had a 12-5 advantage in second chance points. Idaho finished the game shooting 41% (23-56) from the field, 33% (6-18) from the 3-point line and 81% (18-21) from the charity stripe. After Idaho was 5-for-11 from distance in the first half, the Vandals missed six of their seven shots from long range in the second half.
Mauriohooho-Le'afa finished with 17 points, four assists, one steal and just one turnover in 34 minutes. He was 6-for-12 from the field, and 5-of-10 from the 3-point line. Strings added 17 points, nine rebound and three assists on 4-for-11 shooting from the field, 3-for-6 from distance and 6-of-10 from the free throw line. For Strings, it marked his 35th consecutive game in double figures, tied for the sixth longest active streak in the nation.
Tolbert rounded out the Hornet trio in double digits as he scored 12 points with five rebounds and two steals on 4-for-10 shooting from the floor. Joshua Patton had eight points (4-for-4 from the field) and five rebounds but fouled out in just 17 minutes. Patton, one of the team's best players and defenders, played just seven minutes in the second half and fouled out with 8:28 left in the game. The foursome of Mauriohooho-Le'afa, Strings, Tolbert and Patton combined to score all but 14 of the Hornets' 68 points.
For Idaho, Victor Sanders shot just 4-for-12 from the field, but poured in a game-high 21 points with the help of an 11-for-14 performance at the free throw line. Brayon Blake had 16 points and 11 rebounds, Jordan Scott had 10 points and Nate Sherwood added nine rebounds.
The Hornets, who are still seeking their first win away from home this season, will play at Eastern Washington on Saturday. Tip-off at Reese Court is set for 2:05 p.m.
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