GREELEY, Colo. — In a game that Sacramento State led for over 34 minutes of game clock, it was Northern Colorado that closed the final 5:39 on a 16-6 run to defeat the Hornets, 72-67, on Thursday evening at Bank of Colorado Arena.
After outscoring Northern Colorado in the first half by a 42-36 margin, the Hornets went ice cold in the second half, shooting just 9-of-26 from the floor (.346) while scoring only 25 points. The Bears, meanwhile, scored 36 points in the second half, with 16 of those points coming from the free throw line. Seemingly every time Northern Colorado drove to the basket, a foul was called and the Bears took full advantage at the free throw line. The Hornets were whistled for 13 fouls in the second half and Northern Colorado scored just 16 points on shots that didn't come from the free throw stripe.
Prior to tonight, Sacramento State had been 6-0 when leading with 10 minutes to play and 7-0 when leading with five minutes to play, but both of those marks were snapped. In addition, the six-point lead at the break was the largest halftime lead blown of the season, and the Hornets had been 5-1 when holding a halftime advantage.
Sacramento State had taken a game-high 12-point lead (42-30) with 2:31 remaining in the first half, but proceeded to go for nearly six and a half minutes of game clock (6:26) spanning both halves without a point. By the time a Cody Demps free throw snapped that drought, Northern Colorado trailed by just two points (43-41) with 15:51 to play. From there, no team led by more than seven points the rest of the way.
A pair of Demps' free throws with 6:03 remaining gave Sacramento State a 61-56 lead. However, the Hornets proceeded to miss their next three field goal attempts, two free throw attempts and turned the ball over twice in a span of nearly four minutes. A Jeremy Verhagen 3-pointer at the 1:23 mark gave Northern Colorado what had been its largest lead of the game at 65-63. A jumper from Demps on the Hornets' next possession tied the game at 65-65, but Jordan Wilson followed with another Bear 3-pointer that gave Northern Colorado a 68-65 lead with 39 seconds left.
The Hornets would get no closer as Northern Colorado buried all four of its free throw attempts during the final 21 seconds sandwiched around a Marcus Graves layup to provide the final score.
Sacramento State, which dropped to 11-15 overall and 4-11 in the Big Sky, missed an opportunity to move into a tie for eighth place in the Big Sky standings. Instead, the Hornets remain in 10th place in the 12-team league with just three games left in the regular season. All 12 teams qualify for this year's Big Sky Tournament in Reno which takes place March 8-12.
The Hornets will play their final regular season road game of the year on Saturday at North Dakota at 12:05 p.m. PST.
Northern Colorado (9-18, 6-9) snapped a five-game losing streak and picked up its first win during the month of February. The Bears improved to 7-8 at home, and 4-4 against conference opposition. Sacramento State has now dropped four consecutive games to Northern Colorado when playing in Greeley.
Sacramento State finished the game shooting a respectable .453 (24-53) from the field, .350 (7-20) from the 3-point line and .800 (12-of-15) from the free throw line. However, the Hornets could not overcome a disparity which saw Northern Colorado attempt 16 more free throws, and connect on 12 more of those freebies. Sacramento State was also outrebounded by a 38-31 margin and turned the ball over 14 times, the team's worst mark in 10 games. The Hornets' bench combined for just 13 points on 4-of-15 shooting.
Northern Colorado connected on three less field goals (.420, 21-of-50) and one less 3-pointer (.375, 6-of-16), but hit the big shots late and took full advantage of the free throw disparity.
For Sacramento State, Demps had a game-high 18 points. Fourteen of those points in a second half in which he went 4-for-5 from the field and 5-of-8 from the free throw line. Besides Demps, the rest of the Hornet squad shot 5-of-21 from the field in the second half. Demps also had seven assists with just one turnover in 36 minutes. He was joined in double figures by Marcus Graves (12 points, two steals) and Justin Strings (10 points, six rebounds).
Dreon Barlett had nine points, but was held scoreless in the second half on 0-for-5 shooting. Nick Hornsby had nine points and five rebounds, but turned the ball over six times in 25 minutes. Eric Stuteville added five points, three rebounds and two blocked shots in 14 minutes.
Four Northern Colorado players scored in double figures, comprised of Davis (15 points), Verhagen (11 points, seven rebounds), Anthony Johnson (11 points) and Dallas Anglin (11 points of the bench). Ibrahim Sylla had eight points, six rebounds and three steals, including a huge steal with 2:14 remaining.
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