MENâ€™S BASKETBALL WINS ON THE ROAD AT MONTANA STATE, REMAINS IN BIG SKY TOURNAMENT HUNT
Junior Alpha N'Diaye scored a career-high 18 points to go along with nine rebounds in today's win
BOZEMAN, Mont. -- Sacramento State senior Sultan Toles-Bey and junior Alpha N'Diaye both scored 18 points, and the Hornets withstood a furious late-game rally to hold on and defeat Montana State, 74-71, in a Big Sky Conference men’s basketball game Sunday afternoon at Worthington Arena.
The game was televised live on Altitude as the Big Sky Game of the Week, and will be re-aired locally on Comcast SportsNet California tomorrow at 9 p.m.
With the victory, the Hornets (7-17, 4-9) snapped a 15-game road losing streak that dated back to last season, a six-game losing streak against Montana State, and a four-game losing streak inside Worthington Arena. After beginning the conference season with an 0-7 record, Sacramento State has now won four of its last six games and climbed back into Big Sky Tournament contention. The top six teams in the nine-member conference reach the postseason event, and Sacramento State is within one game of Montana State (11-14, 5-8) for the sixth and final spot with three league games remaining. The Hornets, however, will also have to leapfrog Idaho State (4-8), who sits a half game back of a playoff spot.
In today’s game, Sacramento State used a torrid-shooting second half as the Hornets knocked down 14 of their 18 field goal attempts (77.8 percent) during the half and built a lead as large as 15 points. In fact, Sacramento State led the final 23:13 of the contest, but had to hang on for dear life late in the contest.
Sacramento State went into halftime with a 27-25 lead, and opened the second half on a 20-7 run to take a 47-32 lead with 13:46 remaining. Toles-Bey scored 12 of the team’s 20 points during the run as he hit four three-pointers. However, the Bobcats immediately responded with a 15-6 run to climb back within, 53-47, with 9:17 to play.
The Hornets calmly weathered the Montana State run, and both teams would exchange baskets the next eight minutes of clock until a layup from the Bobcats’ Erik Rush drew MSU within, 69-63, with 1:10 remaining. A turnover from Toles-Bey and subsequent foul by Duro Bjegovic allowed Bobby Howard to step to the line and get Montana State within, 69-65, with 40 seconds remaining. After Heath Hoffman split a pair of free throws, Howard drained a three-pointer to get the Bobcats within, 70-68, with 29 seconds left.
Bjegovic then split free throws on back-to-back trips sandwiched around a MSU miss to give the Hornets a 72-68 lead with 14 seconds remaining. Rush answered with a layup five seconds later, and MSU immediately fouled Toles-Bey, who split his free throws with nine seconds on the clock. With the Hornets up, 73-70, Sacramento State elected to foul Rush in the backcourt rather than give the Bobcats a chance to tie. Rush made his first attempt and intentionally missed the second free throw. However, the rebound bounced off a Hornet player’s hand and Montana State had the ball trailing, 73-71, with six seconds left. MSU went to Rod Singleton on the inbounds and Toles-Bey’s defense forced Singleton into an awkward seven-foot scoop shot that missed badly. Hoffman pulled the rebound with 0.8 seconds remaining and split his free throw to provide the final margin of outcome.
Sacramento State, which has struggled to put opponents away all season, nearly let another close game slip away. Over the final 3:30 of the game, the Hornets committed four turnovers while going 5-for-10 from the free throw line to allow MSU to stay within striking distance. The Bobcats had a pair of opportunities to tie during the final 20 seconds, but missed both shots.
The Hornets finished the game shooting 54.5 percent (24-44) from the field, 36.8 percent (7-19) from the three-point line and 67.9 percent (19-28) from the charity stripe. Sacramento State found a way to win despite committing 19 turnovers, which Montana State turned into 24 points. The Hornet defensive effort, which included five blocked shots, limited Montana State to 34.8 percent (24-69) shooting from the field. That included the Bobcats going just 5-for-33 (.152) from beyond the arc. The Bobcats had 19 offensive rebounds and attempted 25 more shots from the floor than the Hornets.
Fifteen of Toles-Bey’s 18 points came in the second half as the senior point guard wasn’t far off a triple-double. The Compton native finished with 18 points, seven rebounds and eight assists in 38 minutes of play. He was joined in double figures by N’Diaye (18 points, nine rebounds), sophomore John Dickson (13 points, four rebounds) and junior Walter Jackson (10 points, two blocks). The 18 points for N’Diaye were a career high and the nine rebounds matched a career high. N’Diaye, who entered the game as a 44.1 percent free throw shooter, converted on eight of his 10 attempts from the stripe. He also went a perfect 5-of-5 from the field with two of those makes coming on dunks. Bjegovic added six points and five rebounds, and Hoffman tallied seven points and four rebounds in 34 minutes.
For Montana State, Howard scored a game and career-high 28 points, but shot just 9-of-26 from the field, including 2-of-11 from the three-point line. Rush added 20 points, but shot just 6-of-15 from the field. All five Bobcat starters shot below 50 percent from the field, and Howard and Rush combined for 48 of the team’s 71 points.
Sacramento State returns to action on Saturday, Feb. 19, for the team’s ESPN BracketBusters game at Southeast Missouri State at 5:35 p.m. PST. This Hornets do not return to conference play until their final homestand of the season against Northern Arizona (Feb. 24) and Weber State (Feb. 26).