Big Sky Tournament Central
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SACRAMENTO -- Senior forward Justin Strings scored 30 points on 12-of-23 shooting from the field and 6-for-7 from the 3-point line to lead Sacramento State to an 88-77 win over Northern Colorado in the regular season finale for both teams Saturday night at the Nest.
Strings converted on each of his first six 3-point attempts, and had 20 points in the first half followed by 10 more in the second half. He also added four rebounds, three assists, a block and a steal in 39 minutes. The Hornets led for nearly 38 minutes of game clock, held a lead as large as 18 points, and will use tonight's win as momentum heading into next week's Big Sky Conference Tournament in Reno.
The Hornets (7-24, 4-14) will be the No. 11 seed at the Big Sky's postseason event and take on No. 6 seed Portland State (19-12, 9-9) in the first round on Tuesday at 8:05 p.m. at the Reno Events Center. The winner of that game will play in the quarterfinals against No. 3 Eastern Washington on Thursday at 8:05 p.m. The top four seeds (No. 1 Montana, No. 2 Idaho, No. 3 Eastern Washington and No. 4 Weber State) all receive a first round bye. For the tournament brackets, please click here.
Sacramento State has won its Big Sky Tournament first round game each of the last three years, and swept the season series against Portland State this season. That included an 80-75 win over the Vikings at home, and a 71-61 victory in Portland.
Tonight's win allowed the injury-plagued Hornets to snap a nine-game losing streak while beating a Northern Colorado squad (20-11, 11-7) that had won four straight, and six of seven. Sacramento State played without four injured guards in tonight's game (Marcus Graves, Jiday Ugbaja, Jeff Wu, Izayah Mauriohooho-Le'afa).
Tonight was also Senior Night for Hornet seniors Strings and James Herrick as both players were honored prior to the game for their contributions to the program. Herrick wore #0 in tonight's game (Graves' number) to honor Graves who was lost for the season with a back injury prior to the start of the year. Herrick would put up season highs in points (4), rebounds (3), steals (1) and minutes (15).
The Hornets held a 48-39 advantage at halftime and quickly pushed that lead to 18 points after opening the second half on a 14-5 run. Back-to-back 3-pointers from Strings and Jordan Tolbert on the first two possessions of the half sparked the run.
Northern Colorado would chip away at the lead, eventually finishing off a 17-5 run that chopped a 17-point deficit all the way down to five points (74-69) with 5:56 to play. However, Sacramento State immediately responded with a 7-0 run to put the game away. Back-to-back jumpers from Strings and Tolbert, followed by a 3-ball from Bryce Fowler had the Hornets up, 81-69, with 3:47 to play. The Bears would get no closer than within 10 points of the Hornet lead the rest of the way. Sacramento State's 88 points were its second highest output of the season, and largest against a Div. I opponent.
The Hornets finished the game shooting 48% from both the field (31-65) and 3-point line (10-21) while also shooting a very proficient 84% (16-19) from the free throw line. Both teams had the same amount of rebounds (35), and the Hornets tuned the ball over just eight times. Northern Colorado was limited to 44% (26-59) from the field and 5-for-24 (21%) from the 3-point line. Most of the Bears' offensive damage came at the free throw line where they were 20-for-23. After making four of their first five 3-point attempts of the game, Northern Colorado went 1-for-19 from distance the rest of the way.
Joining Strings in double figures for the Hornets was Jordan Tolbert, who filled up the stat sheet with 20 points, five rebounds, eight assists, zero turnovers and two steals in 35 minutes. The assists and minutes were season highs for Tolbert, who shot 7-for-18 from the field and 4-of-5 from the free throw line. Forward Calvin Martin had 11 points and five rebounds, going 3-for-5 from the field and 5-for-5 from the free throw line. Joshua Patton added eight points, four rebounds and three blocked shots while Kevin Hicks, Chibueze Jacobs and Fowler all had five points. True freshman Jamion Wright, who played stingy defense all evening, received a season-high 18 minutes.
The Big Sky's leading scorer, Northern Colorado's Andre Spight, had 31 points on 10-of-22 shooting and 3-for-9 from distance before fouling out late in the game. Jordan Davis added 17 points.
The Hornets will now turn their attention to the Big Sky Tournament, a four-day event that includes all 12 teams in the conference. First round games take place on Tuesday, followed by the quarterfinals on Thursday, semifinals on Friday and championship game on Saturday at 5:05 p.m.