SACRAMENTO -- In a game that featured six lead changes in the final four minutes, senior Osi Nwachukwu's two free throws with 1.0 second left delivered a 57-56 win over Cal Poly on Wednesday evening inside the Nest.
Nwachukwu grabbed an offensive rebound in the waning seconds of the contest, and was fouled going up for the putback. With his team trailing by one point, the senior calmly stepped to the free throw line and buried both free throws to deliver the Hornets the eventual win.
Cal Poly, however, was not done as the team executed a perfect baseball pass down the length of the floor that Colby Rogers caught and quickly hoisted a 12-footer that hit backboard and rim, but bounced out.
Sacramento State held a 37-32 lead at halftime, and extended that advantage to a game-high 12 points (46-34) early in the second half. However, in that second half, the Hornets went ice cold, shooting just 23% (6-26) from the field, 0-for-11 from the 3-point line and 8-for-13 from the free throw line. That allowed Cal Poly to erase the deficit and take its first lead of the second half at 52-51 with 3:58 remaining.
The lead would change hands five more times as Bryce Fowler's jumper at 3:42, a pair of free throws from Ethan Esposito at 1:31, and Nwachukwu's free throws with a second left each erased one-point deficits.
The victory allowed Sacramento State to wrap up the non-conference portion of the schedule with a 7-2 record, tied for the best mark after nine games in program history (1948-pres.). The 7-2 record is a first in the program's Div. I era (1991-pres.), and only the 1987-88 Div. II team had began a season 7-2 prior to this evening. That 1987-88 team was also the last Sacramento State men's basketball squad to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
In addition, Sacramento State will begin its Big Sky Conference portion of the schedule on Dec. 28 at Montana State with the best non-league winning percentage (.778) since joining the Big Sky in 1996.
The Hornets are now 4-0 against Big West Conference teams, which includes victories over UC Riverside, UC Davis and Cal State Fullerton. Dating back to last season, Sacramento State is a dominant 7-1 against Big West institutions.
With the loss, Cal Poly dropped to 2-9 overall and 0-6 on the road. Sacramento State has won five straight at home against the Mustangs, and are now 11-8 all-time when playing Cal Poly at home.
Sacramento State finished the game shooting 36% (20-56) from the field, 27% (6-22) from the 3-point line and 61% (11-18) from the charity stripe. The Hornets also had a 39-34 advantage in rebounds, and 17-7 in points off turnovers. After scoring 37 points in the first half, the Hornets notched just 20 points in the second half.
Fortunately, the Hornet defense came through yet again. For the eighth time in nine games, Sacramento State limited its opponent to 60 points or less. Cal Poly shot 39% (20-51) from the field and 30% (6-20) from the 3-point line.
For the Hornets, Joshua Patton finished with team highs in points (16), rebounds (8) and blocked shots (3). He was joined in double figures by James Bridges' career-high 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting from the 3-point line. Esposito had eight points and seven rebounds, Fowler eight points, five rebounds and six assists, and Nwachukwu finished with six points and seven rebounds. Four Hornets had at least six boards, including Chibueze Jacobs (6).
Brandon Davis had four assists and two steals, and William FitzPatrick had three points as he hit one of the Hornets' six 3-balls.
For the second straight game, the Hornets played without fourth-year senior and starting guard Izayah Mauriohooho-Le'afa (injury).
Kyle Colvin led Cal Poly with 20 points and nine rebounds, and Junior Ballard had 18 points.
The Hornets will not play another game until opening the Big Sky portion of the schedule on the road at Montana State on Saturday, Dec. 28, at 3:05 p.m. PST. Sacramento State will play its first two conference games on the road, including a matchup at Montana on Monday, Dec. 30, at 6:05 p.m. PST.
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