SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Sacramento State led by as many as 15 points in the first half and was up seven at halftime before Southern Utah had a dominant 62-37 advantage in the second half to record a 97-79 win on Saturday in The Nest.
The Hornets (11-2, 3-1 Big Sky) lost for the first time at home this season and saw their program-record nine-game winning streak come to an end. Southern Utah (8-4, 2-1 Big Sky) completely dictated tempo in the second half in which it shot 66.7% from the field and made 24 free throws in the period.
"We didn't make free throws, we didn't make shots, we didn't rebound the ball, we did a horrible job defending the rim, and we didn't play with a sense of urgency," Sacramento State head coach Bunky Harkleroad said. "Bottom line is we didn't play well but Southern Utah is a good basketball team; they outcoached us, they outplayed us, and they deserve credit. Give them credit for dictating how the game was played."
The Thunderbirds were able to play the game at their speed, something that had been almost impossible to do against the Hornets during their 11-1 start to the season. The Hornets had season-lows in points, made field goals, field goal attempts, rebounds, assists, steals, and opponent turnovers in the contest as Southern Utah slowed the game down and took Sacramento State out of its rhythm.
"We just didn't really show up to play today like we should have," Hornet senior guard Alle Moreno said. "They outplayed us in every aspect of the game, and I guess this is what happens when that takes place. We hadn't experienced a loss in a while so there's not much you can do at this point but get ready for practice and get ready to play two tough teams on the road."
Sacramento State did have a sizeable lead through most of the first half, using a 12-1 run mid way through the half to take a game-high 28-13 lead. The Hornets were up 12 points with less than three minutes left in the first period before Southern Utah closed on a 7-2 run to cut its deficit to 42-35 at the break.
The Hornets made seven 3-pointers in the first half and were +7 in turnover margin, but in the second half made just four 3-pointers in 15 attempts and were -6 in turnovers. The Thunderbirds took a 52-51 lead at the 14:01 mark of the second half and never trailed again.
An 11-2 run put SUU up 61-53 but Sacramento State came back to get within a five point deficit with 8:11 remaining. The Hornets wouldn't get any closer as a quick 8-1 spurt extended the T-Birds to a double-digit lead that they would hold for the remainder of the game, going up by as many as 21 points in the final minutes.
Southern Utah shot 64.7% for the game, the highest field goal percentage the Hornets have allowed this season, as 30 of 33 made baskets for the visitors were 2-point shots and the team made 28 of 40 free throws. The Thunderbirds only had five turnovers during their impressive second half and limited the Hornets to just eight steals for the game after the team entered the contest leading the NCAA with more than 16 steals per game.
Just two Hornets finished in double-figures with junior Fantasia Hilliard leading the way with 13 points, six assists, and five rebounds and senior Sadie Clements scoring 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting. Southern Utah had six players score in double-figures and had one total nine points and one total eight in an all-around team effort. Southern Utah outscored Sacramento State 54-18 in the paint and had a 17-14 advantage in assists for the game.
The Hornets play their first Big Sky road games next week, at Portland State on Thursday and at Eastern Washington on Saturday. After playing seven of eight games at home with their only road game just 20 miles away in Davis, Sacramento State will now face significant travel for the first time since playing at Utah Valley Nov. 27.