SACRAMENTO, Calif. – It was only fitting that on Senior Day, senior point guard Justyce Dawson have the ball in her hands with the game tied and under three seconds to play. It was her layup at the buzzer that gave the Hornets a thrilling 79-77 win over Southern Utah in the team's final home game of the season.
Dawson received the inbound pass from teammate Tiara Scott just across half court. She immediately turned and dribbled toward the basket, but it was a perfectly timed behind-the-back crossover that gave her an extra step on her defender.
That extra step provided just enough space for Dawson to float a layup from 10 feet out. The ball bounced off the backboard and clean through the hoop as time expired to lift the Hornets to the 79-77 win.
Both teams battled over a grueling final three minutes. With the score tied 70-70 with three to play, Sacramento State and Southern Utah went bucket-for-bucket until a foul on Dawson turned into a three-point play for the Thunderbirds, who went up 76-75 with just 10 seconds to play. The lead was Southern Utah's first since the six-minute mark in the first quarter.
Sacramento State answered back immediately as senior Maranne Johnson drew a foul under the basket. She made both free throws to put the Hornets back on top 77-76.
As the Thunderbirds looked to counter, forward Kennedy Nicholas drew her fifth foul of the game, sending her to the bench and Southern Utah's Skylee Doman to the line. After missing the first, she made the second, tying the game at 77-77. From there, Dawson's layup did the rest.
Dawson, one of four seniors (three active) playing her final game at the Nest, scored nine points on 4-of-9 shooting. She pulled down two rebounds and had one assist.
Her fellow seniors, Maranne Johnson and Kyhonta Doughty, scored 15 and seven points, respectively. For Johnson, she was 5-of-17 from the floor but a perfect 4-for-4 from the free throw line, including two big free throws late. Doughty, who made her first start since Dec. 6 on Saturday, played 15 minutes while going 3-for-4 from the floor. She pulled in seven rebounds, including four off the offensive glass.
The team's fourth senior, Kelli Robinson, is currently the team's manager after playing for the Hornets during the 2015 and 2016 seasons.
Hannah Friend and Raegen Rohn led the Hornets in scoring in the win, putting up 16 points each. For Rohn, who was a perfect 5-for-5 from the floor, the 16 points are a new career high. She was 4-for-4 from three and 2-2 from the free throw line while adding two rebounds and an assist to her career game.
Nicholas led the team in rebounds, pulling in nine, including five offensive, before fouling out late in the game. She also had nine points, just missing her sixth double-double of the season.
Although the game came down to the final buzzer, it appeared to be well in hand for Sacramento State for most of the game. The Hornets took a 9-6 lead around the five minute mark in the first quarter and didn't give it back until 10 seconds left in the game. They led by as much as 22 in the third quarter but watched as Southern Utah refused to back down, chipping away at the lead to force the close finish.
As a team, Sacramento State shot 43.1% (28-65) from the floor, including 33.3% (10-30) from three. They had 38 rebounds and 13 assists while collecting just three steals.
On the other side of the ball, Southern Utah shot 43.9% (29-66), though they were only 5-for-20 (25.0%) from beyond the arc. Both teams struggled at the free throw line, as the Hornets went 13-for-19 (68.4%) and the Thunderbirds went 14-for-21 (66.7%).
Saturday's game was the last in the Nest for the 2017-18 season as they team will play Wednesday and Friday on the road. After that, it's off to the Big Sky Tournament in Reno.
Wednesday's game at North Dakota is set for a 5:05 pm PT tipoff.