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RENO, Nev. – Sacramento State used a big second half to erase a halftime deficit and eventually defeat Idaho State, 91-76, in the first round of the Big Sky Conference Men's Basketball Tournament on Tuesday evening at the Reno Events Center.
The Hornets advance to play in the quarterfinal round of the single-elimination tournament on Thursday at 5:35 p.m. vs. No. 2 seed Eastern Washington. Sacramento State has now won a Big Sky Tournament game three years in a row, and needs just three victories to qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in the program's Div. I era (1991-pres.). The semifinals are on Friday, and the championship game is Saturday at 5:30 p.m. on ESPNU.
The Hornets are playing some of their basketball at the right time, having won six of their last nine games. Sacramento State, which is the No. 7 seed, improved its record to 13-17 while No. 10 Idaho State sees its season come to an end with a 6-26 mark. The Hornets defeated the Bengals in their only regular season matchup by a 75-63 score on Feb. 11 at the Nest.
After trailing at halftime, 43-41, Sacramento State outscored Idaho State, 50-33, in the second half. Idaho State's Ethan Telfair hit a jumper to give Idaho State a 51-47 lead with 16:26 to play, but Sacramento State responded with a 16-3 run over the game's next 7:20 to take a 63-54 lead at the 9:07 mark. Five different Hornets scored and Sacramento State had five offensive rebounds during the run.
The Hornets led by a least seven points the rest of the way, and had a double figure advantage the final 5:28. The 15-point win was also the Hornets' largest lead of the evening. In addition, the 50-point second half was the team's second largest output in a half this season.
Sacramento State had a massive edge in the rebounding department (46-28), including 17 offensive rebounds which led to a 25-2 advantage in second chance points. Sacramento State also had an 18-3 advantage in points off turnovers.
"Obviously, rebounding was a big deal tonight and we really did a nice job on the boards, especially the offensive glass," Sacramento State head coach Brian Katz said. "Our guys made some adjustments at halftime, and that really worked to our advantage as well.
"Thursday is going to be a battle against Eastern Washington, and we are looking forward to the challenge. They were a win away from a (regular season) conference title, and they've had a very nice season. Like we always say, the next game on our schedule is the most important game, and that certainly holds true for Thursday."
Sacramento State finished the game shooting 47% (31-65) from the field, 38% (8-21) from the 3-point line and 72% (21-29) from the free throw line. After shooting just five free throws in the first half, Sacramento State shot 24 in the second half. The Hornets also had 17 assists compared to just 10 turnovers to go along with six blocked shots.
Idaho State shot 45% (23-51) from the field, 33% (6-18) from the 3-point line and 69% (24-35) from the free throw line. After going 5-for-10 from the 3-point line in the first half, Idaho State converted on just 1-of-8 from distance in the second half.
Sacramento State had four players score in double figures, including Nick Hornsby (18 points, 7-of-10 shooting, nine rebounds), Marcus Graves (18 points, six assists, five rebounds), Justin Strings (17 points) and Eric Stuteville (10 points, eight rebounds). Hornsby had 15 points in the second half and Graves scored 14 after halftime.
Eight different Hornets had at least five points, and 12 players appeared in the game. Senior guard Trevis Jackson finished with nine points and career highs in rebounds (eight) and assists (five) without a turnover in 35 minutes. Izayah Mauriohooho-Le'afa finished with eight points and four assists, Joshua Patton had six points and six rebounds, and Matt Battaglia finished with five points. Both Patton and Stuteville fouled out in the second half as the Hornets were whistled for 24 fouls.
For Idaho State, Telfair led all players in points (22), rebounds (10) and steals (3) while Brandon Boyd chipped in 15 points and Geno Luzcando added 14 points.