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MENâ€™S BASKETBALL KNOCKS DOWN CLUTCH SHOTS IN 74-67 VICTORY OVER EASTERN WASHINGTON
SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Sacramento State senior Justin Eller scored a team-best 17 points, and the Hornets shot 52.2 percent (24-46) from the field on the way to a 74-67 victory over Eastern Washington in a Big Sky Conference men’s basketball game Sunday afternoon at the Nest.
The Hornets, who shot at least 50 percent from the field in both halves, led for the final 26:46 of the contest, opening up an advantage as large as 12 points early in the second half. That included an 18-7 Hornet run over the final 7:25 of the first half to go into the locker room with a 37-26 halftime lead. Eastern Washington chipped away at the lead late, getting all the way back to within three points (62-59) with 2:22 to play.
In fact, it was a three-pointer from Kevin Winford that capped a 7-2 run and drew the Eagles back within three points at the 2:22 mark. That was as close as the Eagles would get the rest of the way, however, as Eller immediately responded with a drive down the lane and two-hand dunk to put the Hornets back up five points (64-59) with 2:04 left.
On Eastern Washington’s next possession, Sacramento State junior Duro Bjegovic drew a charge on Abebe Demissie, and senior Antonio Flaggs responded with a three-pointer 25 seconds later to put the Hornets up eight (67-59) with 1:29 remaining. A jumper from the Eagles’ Jeffrey Forbes (1:19) was then answered by a baseline jumper from Eller with 51 seconds to play. The Eagles closed to five points with 20 seconds left, but that was as close as they would get the rest of the game. Senior Mike Marcial and junior Sultan Toles-Bey both made two free throws down the stretch to help ice the game.
With the victory, the Hornets (9-16, 3-9) have now won two of their last three, and climbed out of last place in the Big Sky standings. Sacramento State moved ahead of Eastern Washington (6-18, 2-8) in the standings and a half back of seventh-place Idaho State (3-8), who the Hornets have beaten twice this year.
More importantly, Northern Arizona’s loss today allowed Sacramento State to move within 2.5 games back of the sixth-place Lumberjacks with four league games remaining on the schedule. The top six teams in the nine-member conference advance to the Big Sky Tournament, and one of the Hornets’ final four league games will come at home against Northern Arizona on Feb. 26.
With the loss, Eastern Washington lost its seventh straight, but six of those seven losses have come by eight points or less. Sacramento State also snapped an eight-game losing streak against Eastern Washington that dated back to an 88-69 win inside the Nest on Jan. 7, 2006.
Sacramento State’s offense was proficient all day as the Hornets not only shot well overall (52.2 percent), but also clicked from the three-point line (50.0 percent, 8-of-16) and the free throw line (75.0 percent, 18-of-24). The Hornets received 38 of their 74 points from the bench as non-starters Bjegovic (13 points, game-high tying eight rebounds), John Dickson (12 points, four blocks) and Toles-Bey (eight points, four assists) combined for 33 of those bench points.
It wasn’t just the offense that was clicking. Sacramento State’s defensive attack included a season-best 10 blocked shots while limiting the Eagles to 38.7 percent (24-62) shooting from the floor and 28.6 percent (6-21) from the three-point line. Dickson (4), Eller (3) and senior Domineek Daniel (3) accounted for all 10 of the Hornets’ blocks.
“I thought today was one of our most well-rounded games of the season,” Sacramento State head coach Brian Katz said. “If we play like that every game, our record would be much better. Any time you get four guys in double figures while shooting 52 percent and limiting your opponent to 38 percent, you’ve played a pretty good game.”
Eller’s 17 points came on 5-of-7 shooting from the field and 7-of-8 from the free throw line. The senior tri-captain has now scored in double figures in 12 of his last 14 games, and upped his season totals to 10.3 points per game and a team-high 48.9 percent shooting from the field. Eller led four Hornets in double figures, that included Flaggs’ 11 points. Eight of Flaggs’ 11 points came in the second half, and the shooting guard finished 3-of-4 from distance and 2-of-2 from the free throw line.
Bjegovic, who’s drawn charge with 1:54 remaining was one of the biggest plays of the game, has now scored in double figures in four of the last five games. Dickson matched his season high with three three-pointers (in four attempts). Senior Mike Marcial added six points and a game-high six assists in 28 minutes.
For Eastern Washington, Forbes had a game-high 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field and 4-of-6 from the three-point arc. Joining him in double figures for the Eagles were Mark Dunn (11 points, eight rebounds) and Glen Dean (15 points, five assists). Eastern Washington outrebounded Sacramento State, 37-30, and managed 11 second-chance points.
Sacramento State will take a week off from Big Sky play as the team plays its final non-conference game of the season on Saturday, Feb. 13, at Seattle. The Hornets beat the Redhawks earlier this season in Sacramento (80-67). Seattle won at Portland State today, 80-77, on a buzzer-beating three-pointer.
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