OGDEN, Utah -- In a game that featured 14 lead changes, seven ties, and no leads of more than nine points, it was North Dakota that squeaked out a 79-76 victory over Sacramento State in the Big Sky Conference Men's Basketball Tournament Quarterfinals on Thursday at the Dee Events Center.
After a Jordan Salley dunk gave the Hornets a 72-71 lead with 3:53 to play, Sacramento State went just 1-for-6 from the field while committing four turnovers during the final three minutes to squander what would have been the program's first Big Sky Tournament victory since 2006.
North Dakota (16-15) advances to the semifinals of the tournament tomorrow against an opponent still to be decided. Sacramento State, which was making its first Big Sky Tournament appearance in eight years, sees its season come to an end at 14-16. The Hornets finished the year 10-10 in league and received the No. 7 seed in the tournament. North Dakota is the No. 2 seed.
Neither team led by more than four points the final 11:29 of the contest. In fact, Sacramento State did not trail for a 12:44 span of the second half until an Aaron Anderson layup at the 5:28 mark gave UND a 71-70 lead. Salley's dunk put the Hornets back on top, setting up the final three and a half minutes.
Anderson's layup at the 3:15 mark gave UND a 73-72 lead, before the Hornets were called for offensive fouls on back-to-back possessions. Sacramento State kept North Dakota from scoring on its subsequent possessions, but the Hornets missed a jumper and committed another turnover with 1:16 to play before a free throw from Troy Huff gave UND a 74-72 lead with 1:09 left.
On the Hornets' ensuring possession, Sacramento State missed two close range shots and saw the possession end on another turnover. North Dakota made one more free throw go push the lead to three points, before Dylan Garrity and Anderson exchanged a pair of free throws. With 17 seconds remaining and the Hornets trailing, 77-74, Mikh McKinney had a contested 3-pointer at the top of the key draw front iron and Dreon Barlett flew in for the putback to get the Hornets within one point with two seconds to play.
Sacramento State then fouled with 0.9 seconds left, UND sunk both free throws, and the Hornets' baseball pass down the length of the floor was tipped away as time expired.
"Today was a hard fought, well played game that came down to the last minute," Sacramento State head coach Brian Katz said. "We tip our hats to North Dakota, they played a little better when it mattered most."
Sacramento State finished the game shooting .463 (25-54) from the field, .500 (6-12) from the 3-point line and .870 (20-23) from the free throw line. The Hornets held a 34-25 advantage in the rebounding department, and committed just 10 turnovers. Sacramento State outscored North Dakota in the first half, 42-39, but UND held a 40-34 advantage in the second half.
North Dakota shot .518 (29-56) from the field, including .560 (14-25) in the second half. UND also went 7-of-18 from the 3-point line (.389) and had 14 assists with just seven turnovers. North Dakota had a big advantage in points in the paint (38-28) and points off the bench (25-19).
"We had our chances and didn't capitalize," McKinney said of the last few minutes. "Our guys were hustling, we had some offensive rebounds and good looks at the basket, but we just didn't knock them down."
For the Hornets, McKinney led the way with a game-high 24 points to go with four rebounds, seven assists and just one turnover in 38 minutes. He was joined in double figures by Garrity (18 points, 4-for-4 from distance) and Cody Demps (15 points, two steals). Salley added eight points and a game-high nine rebounds, and true freshman Nick Hornsby had five points, four rebounds and a blocked shot. No other Hornet had more than four points.
North Dakota had four players score in double figures, comprised of Troy Huff (18 points, two steals), Anderson (16 points, 14 of which came in the second half), Alonzo Traylor (11 points, four rebounds) and Josh Schuler (11 points, four assists).
"I really feel for the three seniors (Salley, Kendell Groom and Joey Quigley)," Garrity said. "We are all best friends, and wanted them to go out on the right note...we just didn't get it done. North Dakota made more plays down the stretch than we did."
Despite the loss, there are a number of reasons to be excited about next season as Sacramento State will return 10 players, including all five starters (McKinney, Garrity, Demps, Zach Mills and Alex Tiffin). The Hornets have improved their conference record every season of Coach Katz's six-year tenure as head coach.
"We have a lot of returners coming back next year, including all five starters, so we feel good about our chances of being back here next year.
QUICK NOTABLES ON THE SEASON
• The Hornets clinched a Big Sky Tournament berth for the first time since 2006.
• The Hornets set their record for most Big Sky wins (10) since joining the league in 1996-97.
• The team has now improved its conference record every year of head coach Brian Katz's six-year tenure - 1-15 in 2008-09; 3-13 in 2009-10; 4-12 in 2010-11; 5-11 in 2011-12; 8-12 in 2012-13; 10-10 this year.
• At 10-10, the Hornets finished with a .500 mark in Big Sky play for just the third time since joining the conference. The 2003-04 squad was 7-7, and the 2004-05 squad finished 8-6.
• The 7-game home winning streak from Jan. 18 - Feb. 22 matched the team's longest home streak during the Div. I era (1991-pres.)
• The team's seven-game home winning streak against Big Sky competition was easily the longest since joining the league.
• The team had a 4-0 homestand for the first time since the 1981-82 season.
• The Hornets went 11-3 at home, the most wins in the program's Div. I era (1991-pres.), and most since the 1988-89 squad also posted 11 home victories.
• Sacramento State's 8-2 home record in conference play is the team's best mark since joining the Big Sky.
• The 14 overall wins tied for the second most during the program's Div. I era (1991-pres.)
• McKinney (first team) and Garrity (honorable mention) gave the Hornets more than one player receiving all-Big Sky recognition for just the sixth time since joining the league.