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LATE RUN SPARKS MONTANA STATE TO VICTORY OVER MENâ€™S BASKETBALL
SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Montana State used a 17-6 run over the final 4:47 of the contest to break open a close game and defeat Sacramento State, 69-54, in a Big Sky Conference men’s basketball game Saturday evening at the Hornets Nest.
A three-pointer from the Hornets’ Loren Leath capped a 7-0 run and trimmed the Bobcats’ lead to 52-48 with 5:49 to play. Sacramento State then forced a Marquis Navarre miss on Montana State’s ensuing possession, but the Bobcats were able to grab the rebound. Divaldo Mbunga was eventually fouled and sank both free throws to put MSU on top, 54-48, with 4:47 left. Those were the first two points of the 17-6 run Montana State used to close the game.
Over the final 4:47, Sacramento State turned the ball over three times, missed the front end of a 1-and-1 free throw opportunity, and converted on 2-of-7 field goals. Conversely, over that same time period, Montana State shot 2-of-4 from the field, and converted on 13 of its 17 free throw opportunities to put the game away.
Early in the game, Montana State used a 9-0 run to take an 11-4 lead and never trailed the rest of the way. In fact, the Bobcats led the final 36:50 of the contest. Sacramento State kept within striking distance throughout, as the MSU’s 15-point margin of victory was also its largest lead of the game.
With the loss, Sacramento State concluded its home portion of the schedule and fell to 2-24 overall and 1-12 in the Big Sky. The Hornets were mathematically eliminated from Big Sky Tournament contention as the top six teams in the nine-member league advance to the conference’s postseason event (March 7-11). Sacramento State has just three games remaining on its schedule, and all will take place on the road over the next two weeks.
The victory improved Montana State’s record to 12-11 overall and 6-6 in the conference. More importantly, the win moved the Bobcats into a three-way tie for fourth place in the league standings with Northern Colorado (6-6) and Idaho State (6-6). The Hornets had defeated Montana State in Sacramento eight times in the last nine years prior to tonight’s loss. MSU now owns a 21-12 record in the all-time series between the two teams.
Montana State used a large advantage on the glass (38 rebounds to the Hornets’ 27) to score 16 second-chance points compared to just four for the Hornets. Both teams did not shoot relatively well (Montana State .417, Sacramento State .375), but the Bobcats used 32 free throw attempts to their advantage, converting on 25 of those opportunities.
Four Bobcats scored in double figures, comprised of Mbunga (16 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks), Will Bynum (14 points, game-high 4 steals), Erik Rush (14 points, 5 rebounds) and Danny Piepoli (11 points). Branden Johnson led all players with 10 rebounds. Mbunga was 4-of-5 from the floor, 8-of-12 from the free throw line and four of his eight rebounds came on the offensive end.
“I thought Mbunga was the difference in the game tonight and he really did a good job of setting the tone for Montana State,” Sacramento State head coach Brian Katz said. “We just had too many giveaways (15 turnovers), and that made it difficult for us to make a serious run at the winning the game.”
Sacramento State was led by Leath’s game-high 19 points as the shooting guard went 7-of-14 from the field, 1-of-4 from the three-point arc and 4-of-7 from the free throw line. He also had five rebounds and three steals, but turned the ball over five times. Joining Leath in double figures was senior center Randy Adams, who had 10 points, six rebounds and two steals. Junior Justin Eller added eight points.
As a team, the Hornets had a season-high nine steals and forced 13 Montana State turnovers. Sacramento State finished the game shooting .375 (18-48) from the field, .267 (4-15) from the three-point line and .667 (14-21) from the free throw line.
The Hornets’ three seniors (Leath, Adams and Donald Thomas) were each playing in their final home games, and were honored prior to the game for their contributions to the program.
Sacramento State returns to action for one game next week on the road at Northern Arizona on Saturday, Feb. 21, at 3:35 p.m. PST.
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