BOISE, Idaho -- Sacramento State sliced a 21-point deficit all the way down to four points late in the game, but could not get any closer as the Hornets fell in the Big Sky Conference Tournament quarterfinals to top-seed Montana, 79-73, on Thursday afternoon at CenturyLink Arena.
The Hornets cut the deficit to a two-possession game on four occasions during the second half, including four points (77-73) with 13 seconds to play. After the Grizzlies missed the front end of a 1-and-1 free throw situation, the Hornets had a wide open 3-point look by Chibueze Jacobs at the six-second mark hit back rim, and Montana knocked down two free throws to provide the final outcome.
After Sacramento State trailed by a game-high 21 points (41-20) late in the first half, the Hornets closed on an 8-0 run and were down, 41-28, at halftime. That was part of a 16-2 run spanning both halves that got Sacramento State within, 43-36, with 18:01 to play. However, every time the Hornets seemed to get within striking distance, Montana would hit a big shot. Sacramento State outscored the Grizzlies, 45-38, in the second half, part of an effort that saw the Hornets bury 8-of-16 shots from long range after halftime. The Hornets' largest lead of the contest was 2-0, and Montana led for all but 58 seconds.
Fifth-year senior and team co-captain Marcus Graves had a monster game, finishing with a career-high 30 points on 11-of-17 shooting from the field, 5-for-8 from distance and 3-of-4 from the free throw line. He scored 20 points in the second half, while adding seven rebounds, five assists, two steals and played the entire 40 minutes. Graves scored 11 of the Hornets' final 13 points as he willed the Hornets back into the game. Graves will almost assuredly be a Big Sky all-tournament selection as he averaged 28.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 3.0 steals over two games while shooting 60% (21-35) from the field, 69% (11-16) from the 3-point line and 67% (4-6) from the free throw line.
The Hornets were playing today's game without the services of junior guard Izayah Mauriohooho-Le'afa who injured his calf late in yesterday's victory. Mauriohooho-Le'afa is the team's best perimeter defender and scored 17 points (5-of-8 from 3PT) in yesterday's first round win over Northern Arizona.
With the loss, Sacramento State's run at the Big Sky Tournament comes to an end, and the team concludes the year with a 15-16 overall record. The Hornets advanced to the quarterfinals after yesterday's 72-60 victory over the Lumberjacks in the first round. Montana, which is the No. 1 seed and received a first round bye, advances to play in the semifinals tomorrow at 4:30 p.m. PDT. The championship game is set for Saturday.
Montana defeated the Hornets all three times the two teams played this year, which included a pair of regular season wins. Montana was one of just two Big Sky teams (Northern Colorado) the Hornets did not beat during the regular season. The Hornets entered the tournament as the No. 9 seed after finishing the year 8-12 in league play.
Sacramento State's run of Thursday victories also came to an end as the Hornets had won seven straight games when playing on a Thursday. The Hornets also lost for the first time on a neutral floor, as the team had wins earlier this year against UC Davis at the Golden 1 Center and yesterday vs. NAU.
Despite the loss, the Hornets have won their first game of the Big Sky Tournament four times in the last five years, their best run since joining the league in 1996. That includes wins in 2015, 2016, 2017 and this season. Over that five-year span, the Hornets are 4-5 at the conference's postseason event.
This year also marked the sixth time in the last seven years that Sacramento State has won at least 13 games overall. That is the best run for the program since the Hornets won 13-plus seven straight years from 1966-73.
Sacramento State finished the game shooting 46% (25-55) from the field, 44% (11-25) from the 3-point line and 86% (12-14) from the free throw line. Montana shot 53% (31-59) from the field, 38% (8-21) from the 3-point line and 82% (9-11) from the charity stripe. Both teams finished with 30 rebounds, but the Grizzlies had sizable advantages in assists (21-10), points in the paint (38-26), points off turnovers (19-10) and fast break points (13-5).
Joining Graves in double figures for the Hornets was sophomore swingman Bryce Fowler who finished with a career-high 19 points, including 4-for-5 from the 3-point line and 3-for-3 from the free throw line. He also had eight rebounds and three assists. It was Graves (20) and Fowler (16) that combined for 36 of the Hornets' 45 second half points.
Ethan Esposito had nine points and four rebounds, James Bridges six points and a steal, Jacobs five points, three rebounds and two blocks, and Joshua Patton had four points, five rebounds, a block and a steal.
Four Montana players scored in double digits, including Michael Oguine (19 points, 4 steals), Ahmaad Rorie (17 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists), Sayeed Pridgett (16 points, 2 steals) and Kendal Manuel (11 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds, 0 turnovers). Rorie (14) and Pridgett (10) combined for 24 second-half points.
Today's game marked the final game in the careers of Sacramento State seniors Graves, Calvin Martin, Jordan Tolbert and Kevin Hicks.
Graves finished his illustrious career with 1,354 career points, the eighth best mark in program history (1948-pres.), and fifth best in the Div. I era (1991-pres.). He scored 16 points as a freshman, then combined for 1,338 points over his final three active years. He missed all of last year with a back injury, and proceeded to average 17.0 points, 4.7 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 2.0 steals per game this season. He is the Big Sky leader in both assists and steals.