SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Sacramento State shot 54 percent (31-of-57) from the field and had five players score in double figures on the way to an 86-76 victory over Southern Utah on Saturday evening inside the Nest.
Tonight's win marked the final home game of the season, and the last time fourth-year seniors and team tri-captains Nick Hornsby, Trevis Jackson and Eric Stuteville will suit up inside the Nest. Prior to the game, the three seniors were honored for their contributions to the program. The three have each won 60 games in a Sacramento State uniform, the most of any player during the program's Div. I era (1991-pres.). The previous record was 59, set by Dylan Garrity, who was in the Nest tonight as a fan.
All three seniors, who are team tri-captains, played big tonight, including Hornsby finishing with 22 points, 11 rebounds and two steals in 30 minutes. He shot 7-for-8 from the field, 7-of-7 from the free throw line and had back-to-back buckets late in the game after Southern Utah had cut the deficit to four points on both occasions. Stuteville had 12 points, six rebounds and a season-high five blocked shots, and Jackson finished with two points, three assists and two steals in 16 minutes.
"When talking about the seniors and what they have meant to this program, I could go on for hours about these guys," Sacramento State head coach Brian Katz said. "These are three remarkable and wonderful kids who have led us in every way on the court, off the court, and with their work ethic and attitude. All three will go into the world and have remarkable careers in whatever they choose to do. There is no doubt in my mind the imprint they have left on this program will be everlasting."
In a game the Hornets led for over 30 minutes of game clock, Sacramento State scored its fourth most points of the season, which included a 50 point second half. Southern Utah's last lead of the contest was 38-36 with 18:28 remaining, but the Hornets immediately responded with an 8-0 run and never trailed the rest of the way. Sacramento State eventually opened up a game-high 12-point lead (61-49) on a Justin Strings layup with 9:11 left, but Southern Utah would not go away. In fact, the Thunderbirds trimmed their deficit all the way down to 67-64 with 4:25 left, but the Hornets immediately answered with a three-point play from Stuteville.
Southern Utah would get within four points at the 3:49, 2:17 and 1:39 marks, but Sacramento State responded by scoring on its next possession each time. The Hornets iced the game at the free throw line where they went 10-for-10 during the final 1:24.
Sacramento State was able to win the game despite Southern Utah connecting on 14-of-27 shots (.519) from beyond the 3-point line. The 14 treys were the most allowed by the Hornets all season. However, Sacramento State shot 59 percent (16-27) from the field in the second half, and finished the game with large advantages in points off turnovers (23-13) and fast break points (18-2). Two of Sacramento State's top four scoring marks of the season have come against Southern Utah, including 88 points in Cedar City earlier this year in a Hornet win.
The victory allowed Sacramento State to improve to 11-16 overall, 8-8 against Big Sky opposition and 8-4 at home. That includes a 5-4 record in league play. The Hornets will fail to reach the 10-win plateau at home for the first time in five years. Still, Sacramento State is 52-18 inside the Nest dating back to the beginning of the 2012-13 season, including a 34-13 mark against Big Sky opposition over that span. The Hornets finish the home slate with five wins in their last six games inside the Nest.
In addition, the Hornets are now 10-4 at home against Southern Utah. That includes a 5-0 mark at home since the Thunderbirds became a member of the Big Sky in 2012-13.
Southern Utah lost for the 13th time in its last 14 games, and dropped to 5-24 overall, 3-13 in league, and 2-14 on the road. Coupled with Sacramento State's 88-83 win earlier this year in Cedar City, the Hornets swept the two-game season series over the Thunderbirds for the second time in the last four years.
Sacramento State remains in seventh place in the Big Sky standings, one game behind sixth place Montana (9-7) and two games back of Idaho and Montana State who are tied for fourth with 10-6 records. Only two games are left in the regular season for all 12 teams in the conference, and Sacramento State's final two will come next week on the road at North Dakota on Thursday and Northern Colorado on Saturday. The top five teams at the end of the regular season receive a first-round bye at the Big Sky Tournament in Reno, which begins on March 7. In the first round, the No. 6 will play the No. 11, the No. 7 takes on the No. 10, and the Nos. 8 and 9 seeds square off. Northern Colorado is ineligible to play in this year's Big Sky Tournament.
Not only did the Hornets finish the game shooting 54 percent form the field, they also shot 83 percent (20-24) from the free throw line. Sacramento State had shot under 65 percent from the charity stripe in five of the last six games. Though Southern Utah was on fire from distance, the Thunderbirds were limited to just 42 percent shooting (25-59) from the field. Southern Utah converted on just 12 free throws and was just 11-of-32 on field goal attempts inside the 3-point line.
"Southern Utah played hard, had a good game plan and took advantage of some things we did," Katz said. "Obviously, they shot the heck out of the ball from distance and we had to make some adjustments in our rotations. When Southern Utah was making their run late in the second half, I thought we stayed tough and make some clutch baskets. Nick (Hornsby) had some big buckets and it was nice to see us do a good job from the free throw line."
Joining Hornsby and Stuteville in double figures for the Hornets were Justin Strings (18 points, 8-of-14 shooting), Marcus Graves (15 points, six rebounds, 10 assists, two steals) and Joshua Patton (career-high 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting from the field, 2-for-2 from the line). Graves, who was just four rebounds shy of the program's first-ever triple-double, played all 40 minutes and had just two turnovers. Patton also had two blocked shots and eclipsed his previous career high of nine points, set earlier this year at Eastern Washington.
True freshman guard Izayah Mauriohooho-Le'afa, who has made a habit of shutting down the opponent's top scorer all year, did it again tonight. His suffocating defense limited Randy Onwuasor to just seven points on 2-of-13 shooting from the field. Onwuasor entered the game as the Big Sky's leader in scoring at 23.4 points per game. In addition, Mauriohooho-Le'afa had seven points, three assists and a steal.
For Southern Utah, James McGee had a team-best 22 points, which included 5-for-11 from the 3-point line. John Marshall added 11 points on 3-for-3 shooting from distance and Jacob Calloway had 18 points on 4-of-6 from long range.
Sacramento State wraps up the regular season on Thursday at North Dakota at 5:05 p.m. PST, and Northern Colorado on Saturday at 1:05 p.m. PST. The Hornets lost to both teams at home to begin the Big Sky schedule in late December, including an 88-86 double overtime loss to North Dakota and 69-53 loss against Northern Colorado.
NOTES -- Stuteville played in his program-record 121st game today while Hornsby is now tied for second (with Garrity) at 119 games played…Stuteville is four blocks shy of tying the program record for career blocked shots (152, set by Cassius Kelleybrew)…Stuteville is also just 22 points shy of scoring 1,000 career points…no center in Sacramento State history has ever scored 1,000 points, and only two bigs have reached the milestone - power forwards Alex Bausley (2003-07) and Michael Boyd (1993-97)…Strings is now 66 points shy of 1,000…also honored prior to tonight's game was assistant director of operations Bryan Nichol, who graduated from Sacramento State in the fall with a communication studies degree and is in his third year with the program.
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