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RENO, Nev. -- Sacramento State endured long scoring droughts in both halves and Eastern Washington shot 55% (32-58) from the field as the Eagles defeated the Hornets, 89-70, in the Big Sky Conference Tournament Quarterfinals on Thursday evening at the Reno Events Center.
With the loss, Sacramento State's season comes to an end while Eastern Washington advances to play in tomorrow's semifinal round at 8 p.m. The Hornets advanced to the quarterfinals after knocking off Idaho State in the first round of the tournament on Tuesday. Sacramento State, which finishes the year at 13-18, has now won a Big Sky Tournament game three consecutive years, the longest stretch since joining the league in 1996. The Hornets were the No. 7 seed at the tournament after finishing the conference season 9-9 while Eastern Washington (22-10) was the No. 2 seed after finishing 13-5 in league.
Eastern Washington opened the game on a 9-4 spurt and never trailed the entire way. The Eagles had a big edge in the rebounding department (39-28) and shot the ball well from the field (55%, 32-of-58), the 3-point line (38%, 9-of-24) and the free throw line (76%, 16-of-21). Meanwhile, the Hornets endured scoring droughts of 5:11 in the first half, and 5:26 in the second half. That included a long stretch of over 10 minutes (10:08) in the second half without a made field goal.
Sacramento State converted six of its final eight shots of the game, but it was a little too late, as the Hornets finished 42% (23-of-55) from the field, 23% (3-for-13) from the 3-point line and just 21-of-36 (58%) from the free throw line. A lingering problem all season, Sacramento State's inability to hit a free throw really hurt in tonight's contest. The 36 free throw attempts were the second most of the season, but the Hornet could not convert, including an 8-of-19 showing from the charity stripe in the first half. Sacramento State finished the year shooting 65% from the free throw line, the worst mark in nine years.
Eastern Washington opened up a lead as large as 16 points in the first half, and Sacramento State cut that deficit to six points on two occasions (32-26 with 2:43 left in the first half; 46-40 with 16:24 left in the second half), but would never get closer. After a pair of free throws from Nick Hornsby drew Sacramento State within, 46-40, the Eagles immediately responded with a 9-0 run to put the game away. Eastern Washington led by double figures the final 14:48 of the contest.
Eastern Washington's 89 points were one shy of the most allowed by the Hornets all season. The Eagles outscored the Hornets in the first half (40-27) and the second half (49-43). Sacramento State did have a season low in turnovers (6) and outscored Eastern Washington in points off miscues by a 12-5 margin.
"Eastern Washington has a high octane offense that can beat you in a variety of ways," Sacramento State head coach Brian Katz said. "They also beat us on the boards, and we didn't guard them as well as we would have liked. Certainly, a big part of tonight's loss was our free throw shooting, but we've been our own worst enemy in that regard all season.
"After we opened the conference season with an 0-3 start, I felt like we were as good as anyone in the league after that point. We had a number of very good wins from beating confernece champion North Dakota on the road, to knocking off Weber State at home and beating Montana twice. Certainly, we wanted to go further in the tournament, but there are 11 teams at this tournament and only one goes home happy. We are definitely one of those teams not happy."
Despite the loss, Sacramento State junior guard Marcus Graves was incredible, finishing with a career-high 29 points on 10-of-18 shooting from the field and 9-for-12 from the free throw line. He added three assists, two steals and just one turnover in a team-high 37 minutes. Junior Justin Strings had 17 points despite missing his first seven shots of the game from the field. The junior duo of Graves and Strings combined for 46 of the Hornets' 70 points. Graves' previous career high was 24 points, and Strings will enter next season needing just three points to become the 15th player in school history to reach the 1,000 point milestone.
Hornsby had seven points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots while Trevis Jackson had four points, four rebounds and three assists with no turnovers in 35 minutes. Jackson, a fourth-year senior and team tri-captain along with Hornsby and Eric Stuteville, committed zero turnovers in 70 minutes during the Hornets' two games at the Big Sky Tournament. Izayah Mauriohooho-Le'afa had five points and a steal and Stuteville was limited to a season-low one point to go along with three rebounds.
Much like he dominated in the Hornets' 77-72 loss at Eastern Washington in the teams' only regular season meeting, Big Sky MVP Jacob Wiley had another monster night. Wiley finished the game with 24 points on 9-for-9 shooting from the field and 6-of-7 from the free throw line. He also had 10 rebounds and three blocked shots. In the regular season meeting against the Hornets, Wiley had 38 points and 12 rebounds.
Wiley was joined in double figures by Eagle teammates Bogdan Bliznyuk (18 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists) and Sir Washington (11 points).
In other Big Sky quarterfinal games today, North Dakota defeated Portland State, 95-72, Idaho knocked off Montana, 81-77, and Weber State downed Southern Utah, 90-70.
- Sacramento State has won at least 13 games five consecutive years, the longest such run for the program in 44 years, and the second longest stretch in school history.
- Stuteville finished as the program leader in career games (125) and became the first center in program history to score 1,000 points as he finished his four-year career with 1,013 points. With 149 carer blocked shots, he also finished just three blocks shy of the school record for career blocked shots.
- Hornsby finished with 723 career rebounds, easily the best mark in Sacramento State's Div. I era (1991-pres.) and the third best mark in program history (1948-pres.). His 723 rebounds are 165 more than any other Hornet during the Div. I era. He also had 133 steals, the seventh best mark in program history.
- Strings' 17 points tonight brings his career total to 997 career points. He will need just three points next year to become the 15th player in school history to reach the 1,000 point milestone.
- Jackson finished this year's Big Sky Tournament with averages of 6.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 35.0 minutes per game. In 70 minutes, he committed zero turnovers during the tournament.
- Graves now has 826 points and 305 assists, and he becomes just the seventh player in school history to reach 300 career assists. Graves scored at least 18 points in each of the Hornets' final three games of the season.
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