SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Junior Mikh McKinney had 29 points, 11 rebounds and six assists, and true freshman Eric Stuteville added 14 points and a game-high 12 rebounds to lead Sacramento State to a 79-58 victory over Northern Colorado on Saturday evening at The Nest.
Playing their best basketball in over two decades, and arguably the hottest team in the Big Sky Conference, the Hornets (13-12, 9-7) have won three straight and seven of their last eight games. The team defeated a Northern Colorado squad (16-9, 10-6) that had won three straight and was sitting in second place in the league standings.
With just four games remaining in the regular season, the Hornets find themselves in a three-way tie for third place with Montana and North Dakota. Sacramento State is also just one game back of second place Northern Colorado and three games behind conference-leading Weber State (12-4). The top seven teams in the 11-member league qualify for the Big Sky Tournament, a place the Hornets haven't been since the 2005-06 season. Likely two more wins would allow the Hornets to qualify for the postseason event.
Below are some more facts about Sacramento State's current run....
• The Hornets have won seven straight games at home, matching the longest run in the Div. I era (1991-pres.), and tied for the fourth longest home winning streak in school history.
• The team's seven-game home winning streak against Big Sky competition is easily the longest since joining the league in 1996-97.
• The team is now 10-2 at home this year (7-1 in league), and the 10 wins match the Div. I era record for most home victories in a season.
• Overall, the Hornets have won seven of their last eight games, matching the 2005-06 squad for the best eight-game run in the team's Div. I era.
• The Hornets' nine conference wins are the most since joining the Big Sky in 1996-97. The previous record was eight, set by the 2004-05 and 2012-13 squads.
• At 13-12, the Hornets have a shot to finish the season with an overall record above the .500 mark for the first time since joining the Div. I ranks.
• At 9-7, the Hornets have the opportunity to finish with a Big Sky record above .500 for just the second time since joining the league in 1996-97. The 2004-05 squad finished 8-6 in league.
In tonight's game, Sacramento State shot .481 (25-52) from the field and .828 (24-29) from the free throw line while limiting Northern Colorado to just .311 (19-61) shooting from the floor and 3-of-17 from the 3-point line. Perhaps more importantly, Sacramento State dominated the rebounding department (45-34) against a Northern Colorado squad that is easily the Big Sky's top rebounding team and entered the game outrebounding opponents by 4.6 boards per game. The 45 rebounds for the Hornets were a season best and the 79 points were the fourth highest mark of the year.
Sacramento State outscored the Bears by at least 10 points in both halves and led by double figures the final 21:14 of the contest. In fact, the Hornets opened up a lead as large as 25 points late in the second half, and were never threatened after halftime. That included leading by 19 points or more the final 7:41 of the contest.
"The key to this game was rebounding, and we outrebounded them pretty handily. Not only are they the best team in the conference on the glass, they are one of the best teams in the nation in that department," Sacramento State head coach Brian Katz said. "We have great kids on this team. They love each other, they believe in each other, they understand their roles, they want to be coached, and they want to win. We are playing very good basketball right now, and we need to keep getting better."
McKinney continues to impose his will on anything resembling an opponent's jersey, finishing just four assists shy of a triple-double while playing a game-high 38 minutes and knocking down 11-of-12 free throws. His 29 points were one shy of a career high, his 11 rebounds were a career best, and the shooting guard has now tallied at least five assists in five straight games. In fact, McKinney's 29 points were more than Northern Colorado scored the entire first half (26). The likely Big Sky Player of the Week is now tied for fifth in the conference with an average of 17.3 points per game against league opposition.
Stuteville's double-double was his first of the season as the 14 points matched a season best and the 12 rebounds were a season high. The true freshman shot 4-of-7 from the field and 6-of-8 from the free throw line in 26 minutes. Dylan Garrity added nine points and six assists, Zach Mills had eight points, Jordan Salley seven points and five rebounds, and Cody Demps had seven points and three assists. Of the Hornets' 45 rebounds, 13 came on the offensive glass, including four from Stuteville.
Northern Colorado had one player in double figures as Jordan Wilson's 17 points were nine more than any other Bear. Derrick Barden, who entered the game as the team's leader in scoring at 14.1 points per game, was limited to just eight points.
Of Sacramento State's four remaining regular season games, two will come on the road, including next week at Weber State (Feb. 27) and Idaho State (March 1).