SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Sacramento State topped 90 points for the eighth time this season, but it was the team's second-half defensive effort, limiting Montana to just 29 points, that helped earn a 91-81 Big Sky victory on Saturday in The Nest.
The Hornets (10-1, 2-0 Big Sky) won their program-record eighth consecutive game and extended their record start to the season while handing defending Big Sky champion Montana (7-4, 1-1 Big Sky) its first conference loss.
"It's a good win for our program," Sacramento State head coach Bunky Harkleroad said. "Montana is a very good basketball team and we forced them to try a lot of midrange jump shots and take hard shots and they made a lot of them. This is a good win for us and the best thing about it was we improved on some mistakes from our game Thursday and we played harder today, which we had to do to compete with them."
The 29 points allowed by the Hornets in the second half was their best defensive half of the season, as the Griz only scored 24 points through the first 19 minutes of the half before scoring five points in the final minute when Sacramento State had the game in hand. After scoring 52 points in the first half Montana was visibly exhausted, both physically and mentally, throughout the second period.
"(The opponent exhaustion) it the part of the system that we love to see at the end of the game when we know we did our job," Hornet senior guard Alle Moreno said. "It's a very fulfilling feeling. (Montana) knocked us out of the (Big Sky) tournament last year, and pretty badly as well, so beating them in general is a good feeling because they have a great team and always have a great program."
Moreno, who was honored prior to the game for becoming the 11th player in program history to score 1,000 career points, had a superb all-around afternoon with 15 points, seven rebounds, five assists, and five steals with no turnovers. Freshman Hallie Gennett led the Hornets with 17 points, making five 3-pointers, while redshirt junior Andrea Chenier added 13 points and four steals and junior Fantasia Hilliard tallied 12 points and five assists.
The Hornets jumped to an early 15-9 lead to open the first half and led 20-14 before a 13-2 run gave Montana a game-high 27-22 advantage. Sacramento State built back to a nine point lead at 53-44 with less than three minutes remaining in the half before Montana closed the period on an 8-3 spurt to trail just 55-52 at halftime.
Montana took a 61-60 lead two minutes into the second half but would not lead again. Sacramento State went up 73-68 with 12:37 to play and led by at least five points for the remainder of the game, reaching a game-high 13 point lead at 89-76 with 55 seconds remaining. The Griz shot 10-26 (38.5%) for the second half, while also shooting just 2-of-6 from the free throw line, before making their last two field goal attempts to finish with a 10-point loss.
Sacramento State finished above its NCAA-leading 3-point makes per game average with 15 three-balls while keeping pace on its leading steal average with 16 thefts on the afternoon. The Hornets forced 20 turnovers with just 13 of their own and were outrebounded just 43-38. Montana had a .515-.411 edge in field goal percentage but the Hornets were far superior from the line, making 16-of-21 free throws while the Griz finished 4-of-9.
Montana came into the game leading the Big Sky in allowing just 59.6 points per game and the Hornets nearly equaled that number with 55 points in the first half alone. Montana shot 57.5% in the first half but still trailed by three points as the Hornets hit 10 three-point shots in the opening stanza. Senior Jordan Sullivan led the Griz with 23 points and 10 rebounds while junior Kellie Cole totaled 21 points.
Sacramento State remains home for the second week of Big Sky play, hosting Northern Arizona at 7 p.m. Thursday and Southern Utah at 2 p.m. next Saturday.