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SACRAMENTO — Montana used a 17-2 run over a 6:29 span midway through the second half to take control, and eventually defeat Sacramento State, 86-68, on Saturday evening inside the Nest. The game marked the regular season finale for both teams.
The victory allowed Montana (23-8, 16-4) to claim the Big Sky Conference regular season championship, and secure the No. 1 seed at next week's Big Sky Tournament in Boise. The top five seeds get a first round bye and they consist of No. 1 Montana, No. 2 Northern Colorado, No. 3 Eastern Washington, No. 4 Weber State and No. 5 Portland State.
Sacramento State (14-15, 8-12) will be the No. 9 seed at the tournament and play No. 8 Northern Arizona in the first round on Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. PDT. That game will mark the first of the men's tournament. Should Sacramento State defeat NAU, the Hornets would play Montana on Thursday at 11 a.m. PDT. Other first round matchups include No. 6 Montana State vs. No. 11 Idaho, and No. 7 Southern Utah vs. No. 10 Idaho. The winner of the Big Sky Tournament receives an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.
The Hornets finish the regular season with a 14-15 overall record, 8-12 league mark and 9-5 record at home. Sacramento State has defeated every team in the conference once except for Northern Colorado and Montana. Both of the losses to Northern Colorado came by six points or less. The Hornets have won seven straight games played on a Thursday, but have now dropped 12 straight games played on a Saturday.
The Hornets also had their streak of six consecutive victories on Senior Night come to a close. Prior to tonight's game, seniors Marcus Graves, Calvin Martin, Jordan Tolbert and Kevin Hicks were honored for their contributions to the program as they were playing their last career game inside the Nest.
Montana shot a blistering 60% (31-52) from the field, including 75% in the first half and 50 percent in the second half. Both teams battled back and forth in a highly entertaining first half that saw neither team lead by more than eight points. Sacramento State went into the halftime trailing, 43-41.
However, it was all Montana in the second half. After Sacramento State got a bucket from Izayah Mauriohooho-Le'afa to go up, 51-50, with 15:59 left in the game, Montana began its game-sealing 17-2 run. By the time the spurt ended, the Grizzlies held a commanding 67-53 lead with 8:14 remaining. Six different Montana players scored during the run, including four points from Timmy Falls. The Hornets trailed by double figures the rest of the way.
The Grizzlies finished the game shooting 60% from the field, 46% (10-22) from the 3-point line and 88% (14-16) from the free throw line. After a sizzling first half that saw Sacramento State shoot 62% from the floor, the Hornets cooled down in the second half, connecting on just 9-for-32 from the field. Sacramento State finished at 43% (25-58) from the field, 21% (4-19) from the 3-point line and 88% (14-16) from the free throw line. Both teams finished with 42 points in the paint, and both got 20 points from its bench.
For Sacramento State, which held a 29-28 rebounding advantage over the Grizzlies, three players scored in double figures. That included junior center Joshua Patton who scored 20 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the field and 8-for-8 from the free throw line. He also had six rebounds and three blocks in 34 minutes. Graves had 15 points to go along with three assists, two blocks and three steals in 36 minutes. It marked the 15th consecutive game the fifth-year senior has scored in double figures.
Mauriohooho-Le'afa added 11 points, six rebounds, six assists and two steals, and Ethan Esposito finished with six points and three rebounds. Osi Nwachukwu had four points and four rebounds, Hicks had five points and Chibueze Jacobs tallied five rebounds. Sacramento State finished with 12 steals and forced 16 turnovers, scoring 21 points off those miscues.
Four of Montana's five starters scored in double figures, including 17 points, six rebounds and four assists from Sayeed Pridgett, 16 points from Falls, and 16 points and three steals from Michael Oguine.
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