SACRAMENTO -- Northern Arizona shot a blistering 57% (27-for-47) from the field and outscored the Hornets by six points in both halves on the way to a 78-66 victory over Sacramento State on Saturday evening inside the Nest.
The Lumberjacks never trailed the entire way, and also finished the game shooting 48% (10-21) from the 3-point line and 70% (14-20) from the free throw line. Sacramento State kept things close throughout the contest, but could never get over the hump. That included midway through the second half when a jumper from Ethan Esposito tied the score at 42-42 with 11:20 to play.
After the Esposito bucket, Sacramento State had one possession to take its first lead of the evening, but turned the ball over, one of 15 turnovers for the Hornets this evening. Both teams would battle back and forth the next few minutes and the Hornets found themselves down, 49-47, with 9:22 remaining after a pair of Bryce Fowler free throws. However, NAU would go on an 11-2 run over the next two minutes to take a commanding 60-49 lead with 7:11 to play. During the run, Northern Arizona hit three 3-pointers, including a Cameron Shelton long ball that concludes the spurt.
Sacramento State would get no closer than within nine points of the Lumberjack lead the rest of the way.
The Hornets, who were playing their third game of a three-game homestand, dropped to 11-12 overall and 5-9 in the Big Sky Conference. Sacramento State won each of the first two games of the homestand by double figures over both Portland State and Southern Utah, but could not overcome NAU's hot shooting today.
Sacramento State has now split its last 10 games, and will conclude the homestand on Thursday against Weber State at 7:05 p.m. The Hornets were attempting to sweep the two-game season series over NAU for just the second time since joining the Big Sky in 1996. Earlier this year in Flagstaff, Joshua Patton buried a short jumper with 0.5 seconds left to beat Northern Arizona, 66-64.
The Lumberjacks snapped their four-game losing streak and improved to 8-17 overall and 6-9 in the conference. NAU won its third road game against a Big Sky opponent this season, including victories at Idaho State and Idaho.
Of NAU's 27 made buckets, 11 came on layups and three on dunks, and the Lumberjacks had 19 assists on 27 baskets. Sacramento State finished the game shooting 46% (23-50) from the field, 33% (5-15) from the 3-point line and 75% (15-20) from the free throw line. The Hornets had a 13-6 advantage in second chance points, but NAU outscored the Hornets, 16-8, in points off turnovers.
Four Hornets scored in double figures, led by Marcus Graves' game-high 18 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field, 3-for-4 from distance and 5-of-6 from the charity stripe. He also had two steals. Fowler matched his career high with 16 points, which included a pair of 3-pointers. Fowler has now scored in double figures seven times in the last nine games. Osi Nwachukwu had 12 points, five rebounds and a pair of steals, and Esposito finished with 11 points and five rebounds. That foursome combined to score all but nine of Sacramento State's points.
After Patton burned NAU for a career-high 34 points in the teams' meeting a month ago in Flagstaff, the junior center was limited to just five shots from the field. He finished with six points, 10 rebounds, a steal and career-best four assists.
For NAU Carlos Hines had 17 points, 10 assists and two steals. That included a big second half when he had 13 points and six assists. Nik Mains had 16 points, Luke Avdalovic had 14 points and Shelton 12 points and seven rebounds.
Sacramento State concludes the homestand on Thursday when the Hornets host Weber State at 7:05 p.m. The Hornets are back on the road next Saturday for a matchup at Portland State.
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