BIG DEFENSIVE EFFORT LEADS MEN’S HOOPS TO 59-56 WIN AT EASTERN WASHINGTON

BIG DEFENSIVE EFFORT LEADS MEN’S HOOPS TO 59-56 WIN AT EASTERN WASHINGTON

Big Sky Conference standings

CHENEY, Wash. - Sacramento State limited Eastern Washington to 33% shooting from the field, and went 4-for-4 from the free throw line over the final 12 seconds to beat Eastern Washington, 59-56, on Thursday evening at Reese Court.

Senior guard Marcus Graves had a monster game, finishing one assist shy of his second triple-double of the season. The team co-captain had 19 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and three steals on 6-of-12 shooting from the field and 4-for-4 from the free throw line. Twelve of those points came in the second half, including five of the team's final seven points of the contest. It was Graves that posted the program's first-ever triple-double earlier this year, and nearly notched a second, a rare feat at the collegiate level.

The Eagles finished the game 16-for-48 from the field while converting on just 30% (7-23) of its 3-point attempts. The 56 points were the lowest output for EWU in its last 26 games and the field goal percentage the lowest mark in 24 games. Both figures were the lowest of the season for Eastern Washington against a Big Sky opponent. The Eagles converted less than 10 field goals in each half, and went the final 2:41 of the contest without a made field goal.

In a game that featured nine lead changes and seven ties, neither team led by more than 10 points the entire way. That included a back and forth second half where neither team led by more than four points the entire 20 minutes. After Eastern Washington's Tyler Kidd buried a 3-pointer to give the Eagles a 54-52 lead at the 2:41 mark, Sacramento State would close the final 2:15 on a 7-2 run.

The game-closing run began with a huge 3-pointer from Graves to give the Hornets the lead for good at 55-54 with 2:15 left. Eastern Washington would then miss the front end of a 1-and-1 free throw situation, and tacked on a possession where it missed three straight field goal attempts. Sacramento State would eventually secure the ball after that third Eagle miss, and Izayah Mauriohooho-Le'afa was fouled. The third-year junior calmly sunk both free throws with 12 second left to push the Sacramento Stat lead to 57-54.

The Eagles responded with a pair of free throws from Kidd to cut the lead to 57-56 with seven seconds left. Once again, the Eagles were forced to foul and Graves responded by burying both of his free throws at the five-second mark. Sitting on a 59-56 lead, Sacramento State elected to foul before EWU could get a three-point attempt in the air. With Eastern in the double bonus, Kidd stepped to the free throw line for two freebies at the 1.6 second mark. Kidd missed the first free throw and intentionally missed the second. However, the intentional miss did not draw iron and Sacramento State got the ball out of bounds. The inbounds pass came to Graves who dribbled out the clock.

The Hornets continued their dominant ways on Thursday. Sacramento State has now won six straight games when playing on Thursday, and is 7-2 on Thursdays this season. More importantly, the Hornets won for the seventh time in their past 13 games and improved to 13-13 overall and 7-10 in the Big Sky.

With just three regular season games left, Sacramento State moved into a tie for eighth place in the league standings, but sit just two games out of fifth place. There is currently a three-way tie for fifth between Southern Utah, Portland State and Eastern Washington which all sit at 9-8. The top five places receive a bye in the first round of the Big Sky Tournament in Boise, Idaho, on March 13-16.

The win also snapped Eastern Washington's seven-game winning streak at home. The Eagles (11-17, 9-8) entered the game 9-3 on the home floor, including 7-1 against conference foes. In addition, Sacramento State avenged its 94-92 overtime loss at home to Eastern Washington earlier this season.

Overall, Sacramento State had lost nine straight to Eastern Washington, its longest active losing streak against any of the Big Sky schools. The Hornets, who improved to just 4-21 on the Eagles' home floor, defeated EWU at Reese Court for the first time since Jan. 12, 2013.

The Hornets missed their first nine field goal attempts of the game, but kept things close with a stingy defensive effort that forced 18 EWU turnovers. Sacramento State finished the game shooting 39% (19-49) from the field, 35% (7-20) from the 3-point line and 82% (14-17) from the free throw line. However, in the second half, Sacramento State shot 50% from both the field (11-22) and the 3-point line (5-10).

Eastern Washington held a 36-29 rebounding advantage and outscored the Hornets in second chance points by a 9-0 margin, but the Eagles could not get anything going offensively. The score at halftime was 27-27, and the Hornets outscored the Eagles in the second half, 32-29.

Joining Graves in double figures for the Hornets were Mauriohooho-Le'afa who had 17 points and two steals. The junior shot 5-for-9 from the field, 2-of-4 from the 3-point line and 5-for-5 from the free throw line. Twelve of those points came in the second half. Joshua Patton added 11 points, eight rebounds, a block and a steal. The trio of Graves, Mauriohooho-Le'afa and Patton combined for 47 of the Hornets' 59 points, not to mention 29 of the team's 32 second-half points.

Bryce Fowler had five points and five rebounds, Chibueze Jacobs had five points and Calvin Martin finished with two points. True freshman James Bridges was held scoreless in 28 minutes, but finished with a block, steal and a team-best +11 in plus/minus ratio.

Zero Eastern Washington players shot better than 50 percent from the field, and the Eagles were led by Jesse Hunt's 15 points, seven rebounds and two blocks. Kidd had 13 points, six turnovers, five steals and shot 4-for-14 from the field.

The Hornets will play their final regular season road game on Saturday at Idaho. Tip-off against the Vandals, who lost by three points to Portland State this evening, is set for 7:05 p.m. The Hornets defeated Idaho earlier this season at the Nest by a 69-48 score.