CEDAR CITY, Utah — Sacramento State trailed by 28 points with 14 minutes to play before storming all the way back to within three points late in the contest, but ultimately fell at Southern Utah, 76-71, on Saturday afternoon at the American First Event Center.
The Hornets missed 18 of their first 21 field goal attempts of the game and that resulted in a 25-7 Southern Utah lead right out of the gates. The Thunderbirds enjoyed a comfortable lead for a good portion of the game, eventually taking a game-high 28-point lead (54-26) with 13:55 to play. However, with the help of a full court press and a plethora of Southern Utah turnovers, Sacramento State went on a 45-22 run over the final 12:23 to make things interesting.
In fact, Sacramento State, trailing, 74-71, had the ball and a chance to tie with 32 seconds left. The play was designed for Marcus Graves, who is the team's leading scorer and had a monster second half. Graves' 3-pointer, however, drew front iron at the 19 second mark, and Southern Utah secured the rebound. The Hornets were forced to foul, and Southern Utah buried two free throws with 11 seconds left to provide the final scoring of the game.
Sacramento State shot just 21% (6-28) from the field in the first half while committing nine turnovers. The Hornets scored just 18 points in that first half and trailed, 41-18, at the break, easily the team's largest deficit of the season at halftime. Sacramento State shot better in the second half (46%) and forced 17 Southern Utah turnovers after halftime to inch their way back into the contest. For the game, the Thunderbirds were forced into 29 turnovers which resulted in a 31-9 points off turnover advantage for Sacramento State. That included 24-0 in points off turnovers in the second half, which had much to do with the Hornets' full-court pressure on defense.
Graves had 19 of his game-high 24 points in the second half. During the Hornets' 45-22 run to close the game, he had 17 points, four assists and two steals. The senior co-captain finished the game with 24 points, five assists, four rebounds and three steals in 33 minutes.
Sacramento State, which was coming off a two-point road win at Northern Arizona on Thursday, dropped to 7-8 overall and 1-5 in the Big Sky Conference. Of the Hornets' six games this year, five have been close games that came down to the final two minutes of play. Unfortunately, Sacramento State has lost four of those five outcomes.
Southern Utah won its fourth straight game, the longest active winning streak of any of the Big Sky's 11 teams. The Thunderbirds, who were selected last in the Big Sky's preseason coaches and media polls, have been the surprise of the conference thus far. Southern Utah improved to 9-7 overall, 6-2 at home, and 4-3 in the Big Sky.
Sacramento State, which finished off a stretch that saw the team play four of its first six conference games on the road, will now get a healthy dose of home cooking. Beginning next week, six of the next nine games will come on the home floor, a place Sacramento State is 62-27 dating back to the 2012-13 season.
For the game, Sacramento State shot 36% (24-67) from the field, 29% (7-24) from the 3-point line and 80% (16-20) from the free throw line. The Hornets had 14 steals, including five from Bryce Fowler, and three each from Graves and Joshua Patton. Despite being badly outrebounded, 42-23, Sacramento State did own a 13-8 advantage in second chance points. Southern Utah shot well all afternoon, connecting on 54% (23-43) from the field, 55% (6-11) from the 3-point line and an incredible 24-for-25 (96%) from the free throw line.
After being outscored in the first half, 41-18, Sacramento State had a 53-35 advantage in the second half.
Joining Graves in double figures for the Hornets was Fowler who had 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting to go along with three assists and a career-high five steals. Osi Nwachukwu had season highs in points (13) and rebounds (8) while adding a block and a steal. Fresh off a 34-point effort in Thursday's win at Northern Arizona, Patton had six points but finished with career highs in blocks (5) and steals (3). Chibueze Jacobs added six points in 16 minutes of action. All 13 Hornets on the active roster appeared in today's game, and eight of those players finished with three points or less.
Southern Utah, which had four different players finish four turnovers or more, had four players in double-figure points. That included Cameron Oluyitan (21 points, 5 rebounds), Andre Adams (17 points, 9 rebounds), Jacob Calloway (15 points, 6 rebounds) and Brandon Better (12 points, two steals).
The Hornets will play twice at home next week, including games on Thursday vs. Idaho and Saturday against Eastern Washington. Both of those games will tip at 7:05 p.m. Each of the Hornets' first two Big Sky home games were decided by five points or less.