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BOISE, Idaho -- Sacramento State's starting back court of Marcus Graves (27) and Izayah Mauriohooho-Le'afa (17) combined for 44 points to lead the Hornets to a 72-60 win over Northern Arizona in the first round of the Big Sky Conference Men's Basketball Tournament on Wednesday morning at CenturyLink Arena.
With the win, the Hornets, who have won their first game of the tournament four times in the last five years, will advance to the quarterfinal round where they play Montana tomorrow at 11 a.m. PDT. Montana is the No. 1 seed after winning the regular season title and received a bye in the first round.
In today's victory, Sacramento State led for nearly 37 minutes of game clock, and led by double figures the entire second half after entering the break with a 42-27 lead. The Hornets buried eight of their first nine 3-point attempts, and finished the game shooting 53% (27-51) from the field, 60% (12-20) from the 3-point line and 6-for-9 from the free throw line. The 12 3-pointers were the second most in a game by the Hornets this year, and the 3-point percentage was their best mark of the season.
The starting back court of Graves (6-for-8) and Mauriohooho-Le'afa (5-for-8) led the way from distance as the two combined to shoot 11-for-16 from beyond the arc. The six 3-pointers for Graves were a career high, and the five three-balls for Mauriohooho-Le'afa tied a career best. Graves was 3-for-3 from distance in the 1st half and Mauriohooho-Le'afa 4-for-4 as the Hornets were 8-of-9 at halftime.
Northern Arizona jumped out to an early 8-5 lead, but Sacramento State went on a 10-0 run over a 1:49 span to take a 15-8 advantage. Mauriohooho-Le'afa scored eight of those 10 points, including a pair of 3-balls. Northern Arizona closed to within five points of the Hornet lead on a pair of occasions during the first half but would get no closer.
Sacramento State closed on the first half on an 8-0 run over the final 1:29 to take a 15-point lead (42-27) into halftime. The Hornets led by as many as 18 points in a second half where Northern Arizona never really threatened.
The victory allowed Sacramento State to improve to 15-15 overall and 2-0 on a neutral floor. The other neutral win came against UC Davis at the Golden 1 Center. The Hornets are 6-9 all-time in Big Sky Tournament play, and will attempt to reach the semifinal round for just the fourth time (2003, 2006, 2015). Montana, however, stands in the way as the Grizzlies defeated the Hornets by double figures in both regular season meetings this year. That includes an 86-68 Grizzly win inside the Nest last Saturday.
The loss ends the season for Northern Arizona (10-21), which was coming off a road win at No. 2 seed Northern Colorado on Saturday. The Hornets and Lumberjacks split the regular season series with both teams winning on the road.
Not only did the Hornets shoot well, they also held a commanding 28-13 advantage in points off turnovers. In fact, Sacramento State scored buckets on a good chunk of NAU's 18 turnovers. The 28 points were the third most scored off miscues by the Hornets this year.
NAU was limited to 40% (21-53) shooting from the field and 35% (7-20) from the 3-point line. The Lumberjacks did have a 34-24 edge in the rebounding department, but Sacramento State shot lights out, which included 17 assists on its 27 made buckets. Seven different Hornets had at least one assist, including a career-high five from center Joshua Patton.
Graves' 27 points were two shy of his career high as he finished 10-for-18 from the field and 6-of-8 from the 3-point line while also adding four steals in 38 minutes. It marked his 16th straight game in double figures. Mauriohooho-Le'afa's 17 points were one shy of a season best as he went 6-for-11 from the floor and 5-of-8 from distance while also accounting for three rebounds, three assists and three steals.
Joining the back court in double figures was Patton who had 12 points, three rebounds, five assists, one block and zero turnovers in a career-high tying 37 minutes. The threesome combined for all but 16 of the Hornets' points.
Ethan Esposito, who started for just the second time this year, had six points, four rebounds and a block. Chibueze Jacobs had four points and three rebounds, and Bryce Fowler added four points, four rebounds and three assists in 33 minutes. Osi Nwachukwu had two points, a pair of boards and a steal.
For NAU, Bernie Andre led the way with 19 points and 12 rebounds. Carlos Hines, who shredded the Hornets for 17 points and 10 assists a month ago inside the Nest, had 13 points on 4-for-13 shooting with nine turnovers today.
Tomorrow's game against Montana will broadcast live on ESPN 1320 AM, and can be watched on Pluto.TV channel 231.