GREELEY, Colo. -- Northern Colorado's Derrick Barden had 21 points and 14 rebounds, and Tate Unruh added 20 points and three steals to lead the Bears to a 78-64 win over Sacramento State in a Big Sky Conference men's basketball game Saturday evening at the Butler-Hancock Pavilion.
The Bears scored the first seven points of the game, and never trailed the entire way as Sacramento State missed seven of its first eight attempts from the field as well as two free throws. After the Hornets clawed their way back to within three points of the Bears' lead at 16-13 with 11:59 remaining in the first half, Northern Colorado ripped off an 8-0 run to reclaim a 22-13 lead at the midway point of the opening half.
Both teams exchanged baskets the next five minutes before a layup from Tim Huskisson gave Northern Colorado a 34-23 lead with 4:36 left in the half. Northern Colorado (9-15, 7-9) would lead by at least nine points the rest of the game, spanning 24:36 of game clock. The Bears opened up an advantage as large as 20 points early in the second half, and saw the Hornets cut the lead all the way down to nine points on a Jackson Carbajal layup (53-44) with 10:02 left in the contest. However, Northern Colorado would score the game's next seven points, and the Hornets would get no closer than within 10 points of UNC's lead the rest of the way.
With the loss, Sacramento State's record dropped to 12-12 overall and 7-9 in the Big Sky. The Hornets, who beat Northern Colorado earlier this season at home, now find themselves in a four-way tie for fifth place in the Big Sky standings with just four league games remaining. The top seven teams in the 11-member conference qualify for the Big Sky Tournament, and Sacramento State is tied with Montana State, Northern Arizona and Northern Colorado. Those four teams sit one game behind third-place North Dakota and Southern Utah who both have 8-8 records.
Sacramento State will now take a week off from conference to play its ESPN BracketBusters game next Saturday at UC Santa Barbara. The Hornets' final four conference games include home contests against Weber State (2/28) and Idaho State (3/2) as well as road games at Montana (3/7) and Montana State (3/9).
Tonight's game was essentially won in the first half when Northern Colorado shot 51.4 percent from the field, 40.0 percent from the three-point line, outrebounded the Hornets by a 23-14 margin while forcing seven Sacramento State turnovers. By the time it was all said and done, the Bears went into the break with a commanding 45-27 lead, the largest halftime deficit the Hornets have faced all year.
Sacramento State did outscore the Bears in the second half, 37-33, but the first half damage had already been done. The Bears finished the game shooting 50.8 percent (30-59) from the field and 35.3 percent (6-17) from the three-point line. In addition, Northern Colorado committed just seven turnovers and had 17 assists on 30 made buckets.
Conversely, the Hornets shot well from the field (.459, 26-for-57), but couldn't buy a three-pointer, converting on just 3-of-17 attempts from long range (.176). In fact, Dylan Garrity shot 3-for-6 from distance, but the rest of the team was 0-for-11 from the arc. Sacramento State committed just 10 turnovers despite the miscue-filled first half, but made just 9-of-18 attempts from the free throw line.
Leading Sacramento State in scoring for the first time all season was freshman Cody Demps, who posted season highs in points (13), rebounds (6) and minutes (25). The Elk Grove native shot 5-of-6 from the field and 3-of-4 from the free throw line. He was joined in double figures by center Konner Veteto, who had 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting to go along with a team-high eight rebounds.
Five different Hornets scored at least eight points, including Garrity (nine points, three assists), Carbajal (nine points, four rebounds, three assists and no turnovers) and Mikh McKinney (eight points). John Dickson added six points and four rebounds. Dickson, who is the team's leading scorer at 13.3 points per game, had his second lowest scoring output of the season with the six points.
For Northern Colorado, Barden had an unbelievable game, not only leading everybody in points (21) and rebounds (14), but he also shot 10-for-11 from the field. He had 15 points and 10 rebounds by halftime, and six of his 14 total rebounds came on the offensive glass. Unruh shot 6-of-13 from the field, 3-of-7 from the three-point line and 5-of-6 from the free throw line for his 20 points. Huskisson added 15 points and Paul Garnica had seven points and four assists.
The Hornets' ESPN BracketBusters game at UC Santa Barbara on Feb. 23 will start at 7:05 p.m. Sacramento State is 0-2 all-time in BracketBusters play, including a 67-52 loss at Southeast Missouri in 2010-11, and a 79-67 home loss to San Jose State last year. The Hornets and Gauchos will be playing each another for the just the fifth time ever (UCSB has won the previous four meetings).