MISSOULA, Mont. — Kendal Manuel's two free throws with 2.5 seconds left proved to be the difference and Sacramento State's desperation 3-point heave at the buzzer fell short as the Hornets fell at Montana, 52-50, on Monday evening at Dahlberg Arena.
In a back and forth game that featured a massive 11 ties and 16 lead changes, Sacramento State held the lead on a pair of occasions during the final three minutes but could not make that advantage hold up. The league's best free throw shooting team in terms of percentage, the Hornets also went just 9-of-15 from the free throw line, including three misses from the charity stripe during the final 2:13.
In a contest where the two teams combined to shoot just 35% from the field, eight of the game's combined 102 points came during the final minute. Sacramento State took what proved to be its final lead after James Bridges buried an elbow 3-pointer to give the Hornets a 49-48 lead with 58 seconds to play. However, on Montana's next possession, the Grizzlies secured an offensive rebound and Manuel hit two free throws with 39 seconds left for a 50-49 Griz lead.
A missed shot by the Hornets' Bryce Fowler followed by a missed front end of a 1-and-1 by Montana's Timmy Falls gave the ball to the Hornets with 14 seconds left. Izayah Mauriohooho-Le'afa was fouled at the five-second mark and went to the free throw line where he missed the first, but made the second to tie the score at 50-50. Montana then streaked down the court when Manuel stumbled near his own 3-point line. A foul was called on Sacramento State after the stumble with 2.5 seconds left and Manuel drained both free throws. A desperation double-clutch 3-point heave by William FitzPatrick fell short as the buzzer sounded.
Sacramento State dropped to 7-4 overall and 0-2 in the Big Sky Conference. Both of the Hornets' first two games of the conference season came in the state of Montana as the Hornets fell on Saturday night at Montana State. Sacramento State is now 2-24 all-time when playing in Missoula, but four of the last five meetings at Dahlberg Arena have been decided by seven point or less.
The Grizzlies improved their record to 6-7 overall and 2-0 in league play. The Grizzlies are now 33-3 inside Dahlberg Arena dating back to February of 2017.
Sacramento State held a 27-20 halftime lead, but Montana opened the second half on a 9-0 run. No team led by more than six points the final 19:38 of the contest. The Hornets led for nearly 26 minutes of game clock while the Grizzlies led for just 5:27. The game was tied for nearly nine minutes.
Montana shot 34% (20-59) from the field, including 5-of-18 from the 3-point line. Sacramento State shot 36% (18-50) from the field and 5-for-15 from distance. The Hornets held a 41-34 advantage in the rebounding department, but the Grizzlies scored 15 points off 18 Hornet turnovers. The 18 turnovers were the second highest committed by Sacramento State this season.
The Hornets only player to score in double figures was center Joshua Patton who had 10 points, a block and a steal. Forward Ethan Esposito had nine points and five rebounds, and point guard Brandon Davis four points and a game-high 11 rebounds. Mauriohooho-Le'afa had eight points, six rebounds and four steals in a game-high 38 minutes, and Fowler had seven points and eight rebounds.
Osi Nwachukwu had five points, Chibueze Jacobs four points and Bridges had three points.
For Montana, Jared Samuelson (17), Sayeed Pridgett (14) and Manuel (13) combined for 44 of Montana's 52 points.
Sacramento State, which played its final game of the decade this evening, will now open a season-long three-game homestead. The homestead begins on Saturday when the Hornets host Idaho State at 7:05 p.m. The team will also host Northern Arizona on Jan. 9 and Weber State on Jan. 11.
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