SACRAMENTO -- Sacramento State went on a 5-1 run over the final 1:43, including a pair of Ethan Esposito free throws with 1.1 seconds remaining, and the Hornets defeated Big Sky Conference perennial power Weber State, 78-76, on Thursday evening inside the Nest.
In a game that Sacramento State led for just 2:49 of game clock, the Hornets were able to score on six of their final seven possessions of the contest. Both teams battled back and forth as the game featured seven ties during the final five minutes. That included a free throw from Weber State's Brekkott Chapman that tied things at 76-76 with 39 seconds remaining. After the Hornets' Izayah Mauriohooho-Le'afa missed a runner, the Wildcats secured the rebound with 16 seconds left.
Weber State dribbled the ball down the court and used clock before Cody John unleashed a 3-point attempt from the top of the key that missed right side iron. Esposito grabbed the rebound, and during the scramble for the board, he was fouled by the Wildcats' Chapman with 1.1 seconds left. The Hornets were already in the double bonus and Esposito was awarded two free throws. The sophomore forward calmly knocked down both, and Weber State's desperation heave from behind half court failed to draw rim as the buzzer sounded.
Sacramento State had a big second half, outscoring Weber State, 47-39, after trailing at halftime, 37-31. The Hornets were finally able to take their first lead in over 31 minutes of game clock when Joshua Patton converted a layup to put Sacramento State ahead, 64-63, with 5:02 left. Both teams continued to counter each other with made buckets the next four minutes as neither squad led by more than two points the rest of the way.
Hornet co-captains Marcus Graves and Patton had huge nights as Graves finished with 24 points (8-15 FG, 3-6 3FG, 5-5 FT), seven rebounds, seven assists and two steals. Seventeen of those points came in the second half, and he scored nine straight points between the 8:14 and 6:23 marks to whittle down a seven-point deficit to two. That included a four-point play at the 6:23 mark.
Patton posted his fourth double-double of the season, and third straight game with double digits in rebounds after the center had 21 points (10-18 FG), 12 rebounds and two blocks. He had 13 points and seven rebounds after halftime.
With the victory, Sacramento State completed its season-long four game homestand with a 3-1 record, and improved to 12-12 overall and 6-9 in the Big Sky. The Hornets are now 6-5 in their last 11 games and moved into ninth place in the conference standings with five regular season games remaining. Sacramento State is also one game back of seventh place, and two games back of fifth. The top five teams receive a first round bye in the Big Sky Tournament (March 13-16) in Boise, Idaho.
The victory came against a Weber State squad that has finished third place or better in the Big Sky standings 11 times in the last 12 years, and are on their way to doing so again this year. The loss dropped the Wildcats to 16-11 overall and 10-6 in league play. Weber State had been 5-2 on the road against Big Sky foes. The Wildcats played tonight's game without the services of their leading scorer, Jerrick Harding, to injury.
Sacramento State outrebounded Weber State, 43-31, and had a massive 14-2 advantage in second chance points. In fact, the Hornets had 13 offensive rebounds compared to just one for the Wildcats. Sacramento State finished the game shooting 44% (30-68) from the field, 38% (6-16) from the 3-point line and just 57% (12-21) from the charity stripe. Weber State, which converted on six of its first seven 3-point looks of the game, finished 49% (27-55) from the field, 40% (10-25) from distance and 67% (12-18) from the free throw line.
Esposito also finished in double figures for the Hornets as the forward had 10 points and four rebounds. He scored each of the team's final three points of the game, all from the free throw line. Bryce Fowler had eight points, seven rebounds and four assists, and Mauriohooho-Le'afa had eight points and four boards. Chibueze Jacobs finished with four points, five rebounds and a block. James Bridges converted his only field goal attempt, a 3-pointer at the midway point of the second half.
Four players had double figures for Weber State, including Caleb Nero (18 points), Chapman (16 points, 11 rebounds), Cody John (15 points, six rebounds) and Israel Barnes (10 points, three assists).
The Hornets have just five games left in the regular season, and the next three will come on the road. That includes a matchup on Saturday at Portland State at 7 p.m. The road trip continues next week with games at Eastern Washington and Idaho. Sacramento State's final home games will come on March 7 (Montana State) and March 9 (Montana) prior to taking part in the Big Sky Tournament on March 13-16. The tournament will be played in Boise, Idaho, this year after spending the previous three seasons in Reno.
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