Big Sky Tournament Central
Big Sky standings
GREELEY, Colo. — Sacramento State missed its last three field goal attempts and Northern Colorado closed the final 2:17 on an 11-4 run to beat the Hornets, 70-67, in the regular season finale for both teams Saturday afternoon at Bank of Colorado Arena.
The Hornets, who finish the regular season with a 12-17 overall record and 9-9 mark in league, will now turn their attention to next week's Big Sky Tournament at the Reno Events Center. Sacramento State will be the No. 7 seed at the single-elimination event, and play No. 10 Idaho State in the first round on Tuesday at 5:35 p.m. The top five teams in the conference will each receive a first round bye, and should Sacramento State win on Tuesday, the Hornets would play No. 2 seed Eastern Washington in the quarterfinals on Thursday at 5:35 p.m. Wednesday is an off day. The semifinals will take place on Friday and the championship game is Saturday at 5:30 p.m. on ESPNU.
The winner of the Big Sky Tournament receives an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament, a place the Hornets have never advanced during the program's Div. I era (1991-pres.). The last time Sacramento State qualified for the NCAA Tournament was the 1987-88 season when the program was a Div. II affiliate.
Despite the loss, Sacramento State will enter the Big Sky Tournament as winners of five of its last eight games, and nine of the last 15 after beginning the conference season with an 0-3 record. Amazingly, five of the Hornets' last six games have been decided by four points or less and the Hornets are 2-3 in those outcomes. Of Sacramento State's 18 conference games, 10 were decided by five points or less, or went into overtime, and the Hornets are 5-5 in those games.
"We are disappointed in the loss, but we've won our share of close games this year," Sacramento State head coach Brian Katz said. "The tournament is wide open and the Big Sky is extremely balanced this year, and I feel like we have as good a chance as anyone. We've played a lot of close games and that's what postseason basketball is all about, so I feel like we are battle tested and ready for the Big Sky Tournament."
Northern Colorado, which finished the season winning three of its last four games, improved to 11-18 overall and 7-11 in the Big Sky. The Bears swept the season series over the Hornets, which included a 69-53 win at the Nest in the conference opener for both teams. Northern Colorado is ineligible to compete at this year's Big Sky Tournament because of a self-imposed ban, as the tournament will feature the league's other 11 teams.
With 12 points today, Sacramento State senior Eric Stuteville became the first center in program history to score 1,000 career points. He now has 1,002 points, and also becomes just the 14th player in school history to reach the milestone. The only other bigs to score 1,000 points were power forwards Alex Bausley (2003-07) and Michael Boyd (1993-97).
Today's game featured 11 ties, 14 lead changes, and neither team leading by more than six points the entire way. A pair of free throws from Justin Strings gave the Hornets a 63-59 lead with 3:09 remaining. However, Northern Colorado converted on five of its last six possessions of the game. That included DJ Miles scoring each of the Bears' final nine points over the last 1:51, including 6-for-6 from the free throw line and a 3-pointer at the 1:33 mark.
After Stuteville converted a bucket to give the Hornets a 67-66 lead with 1:12 to play, Sacramento State would not score again as Marcus Graves missed a pair of jumpers and Trevis Jackson was off on a 3-point attempt with five seconds left and a chance to tie. Miles hit two free throws at the 30-second mark to give the Bears a 68-67 lead and knocked down another pair of freebies at the 13-second mark to provide the final score.
Sacramento State shot the ball well, finishing at 56% (27-48) from the field and 77% (10-13) from the free throw line. The Hornets, however, converted on just 3-of-13 shots from the 3-point line while Northern Colorado went 9-of-26 from distance. Sacramento State was also forced into 17 turnovers (third highest total of the season), and the Bears outscored the Hornets in points off miscues by a 16-10 margin. Northern Colorado converted on the same amount of field goals as Sacramento State (46%, 27-59) and three less free throws (7-13), but the Bears scored six more three balls. Both teams finished with 31 rebounds and Sacramento State had a 15-10 edge in second chance points.
Four Hornets scored in double figures, comprised of Graves (18 points, two steals), Nick Hornsby (16 points, six rebounds), Strings (14 points) and Stuteville (12 points, 6-of-7 shooting, six rebounds). Strings, a junior, is now just 37 points shy of tallying 1,000 career points despite entering his sophomore season with just 21 points. Jackson had three points and career highs in both rebounds (five) and assists (five), and Izayah Mauriohooho-Le'afa finished with a career-best five assists. Sacramento State received just seven points from its bench as the Big Four of Strings, Hornsby, Stuteville and Graves combined for 60 of the team's 67 points.
For Northern Colorado, Miles had 16 points (14 in the second half), Jordan Davis had 14 points, and both Roberto Vercellino and Jonah Radebaugh finished with 13 points and five rebounds.
Sacramento State is 4-7 all-time in Big Sky Tournament play, including a win over Montana State in last year's first round before falling to Montana in the quarterfinals. Prior to last year, only the top six or seven teams in the Big Sky qualified for the league's postseason event. The Hornets have never reached the championship game, but qualified for the semifinals in 2003, 2006 and 2015.
NOTES -- Other first round Big Sky Tournament matchups (each on Tuesday) feature No. 8 Portland State taking on No. 9 Northern Arizona at 2:35 p.m., and No. 6 Montana State facing No. 11 Southern Utah at 8:05 p.m…the top five seeds, who each receive a first round bye and will not play until the quarterfinal round on Thursday, are No. 1 North Dakota, No. 2 Eastern Washington, No. 3 Weber State, No. 4 Idaho and No. 5 Montana.
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