SACRAMENTO, Calif. – After leading by 17 in the first half, the Hornets trailed by 10 points with five minutes left in the second half before ending the game on a 13-0 run to shock Idaho State 56-53 on Saturday in The Nest.
Paired with a loss Saturday by Northern Colorado at Portland State, Sacramento State (18-9, 10-8 Big Sky) clinched a spot in the Big Sky Tournament, qualifying for the conference championship for the third consecutive season. Idaho State (11-16, 9-9 Big Sky) came into the game tied with the Hornets for fifth place in the Big Sky.
The Hornets shot 4-of-27 (14.8 %) through the first 16 and a half minutes of the second half and trailed 53-43 with five minutes to play. Sacramento State then managed to hit four of its last five shots, and hold Idaho State scoreless over the last 5:09 of the game, to pull out an improbable win.
"Our players did just a fantastic job of finding a way to win," Sacramento State head coach Bunky Harkleroad said. "I'm so proud of them because we've been in the situation before where we have a hard time scoring and we can't get out of ruts and we did today. Our players just kept big eyes and kept playing and got a few offensive boards and a few stops when we needed them. They just stepped up and made plays, especially our seniors, going for 31 of our 56 points today."
Seniors Sadie Clements, Alle Moreno, and Se'Nyce Parrish were honored prior to the start of the their final home game. While Parrish has missed almost the entire season due to injury, Clements and Moreno started on Saturday and came out firing, with Clements scoring the first seven points of the game and the first 10 Hornet points as the home team took an early 13-3 lead. The advantage grew to 30-13 with 3:51 left in the half, but the Hornets missed their last five shots of the opening period and the Bengals ended the half on an 8-0 run to trail just 30-21 at halftime.
Idaho State then scored the first 12 points of the second half, extending to a 20-0 spurt and taking a 33-30 lead. The Hornets continued to misfire as ISU took a 10-point lead on a layup with 5:09 to play. Freshman Gigi Hascheff hit a 3-pointer with 4:58 remaining, but the Hornets still trailed 53-45 with less than 3:30 to go.
Hascheff then hit a layup followed by a miraculous layup make and ensuing free throw by Moreno. With less than a minute to play, Moreno found Clements on a drive and kick and Clements hit her fourth 3-poiner of the game to give the Hornets a 54-53 lead.
The Bengals missed twice on the other end of the floor, and the career-high 16th rebound by redshirt freshman Margaret Huntington sprung junior Takara Burse for a breakaway layup to put the Hornets up three with four seconds left. Idaho State junior Rebecca Schrimpsher missed a contested three at the buzzer as the Hornets pulled out a miraculous win.
"I felt like (Alle and I) were staring at each other for a long time and it was like slow motion," said Clements of her game winning shot off an assist from her senior teammate. "I knew she could have made the shot if she took it but she decided to pass it to me so I just let it fly and it went in."
Clements tied her career high with 19 points, scoring 16 in the first half and making the critical three late in the second half. Moreno hit two 3-pointers herself and totaled 12 points while Huntington grabbed 11 of her 16 rebounds in the second half and added seven points. Junior Fantasia Hilliard scored just three points but had eight assists, six rebounds, and five steals.
"I think that game was the epitome of our team; we're fighters and that was a great game," Moreno said. "This gym's been my home and these people have been my family and I couldn't have asked for a better four years here."
The Hornets shot just 30% for the game, their worst shooting performance at home this season, but held Idaho State to just 35.6% shooting in their best home defensive performance of the year, including a 26.7% mark from the Bengals in the first half. The 53 points by Idaho State were also the fewest allowed by Sacramento State this season and the Bengals had just a 42-41 edge in the game in rebounding.
With 11 made 3-pointers in the contest, Sacramento State is now just six 3-point makes shy of the NCAA single-season record of 342 made 3-pointers set by Florida Gulf Coast in 2012. The Hornets broke the NCAA record for 3-point attempts in a season on Thursday.
Though they have clinched a berth in the Big Sky Tournament, seeding is still on the line for the Hornets as they finish the regular season next week at Montana on Thursday and at Montana State on Saturday.