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DEFENSE LEADS THE WAY AGAIN AS MEN’S BASKETBALL BEATS SOUTHERN UTAH, 70-55

DEFENSE LEADS THE WAY AGAIN AS MEN’S BASKETBALL BEATS SOUTHERN UTAH, 70-55

SACRAMENTO -- Three Hornets scored in double figures, and Sacramento State limited the conference's third best offense to 55 points and 32% shooting on the way to a 70-55 victory over the Thunderbirds on Thursday evening inside the Nest.

Southern Utah entered the game averaging 74.1 points per game, but the Hornets' top-ranked defense put the clamps down, limiting the Thunderbirds to just 15-of-47 shooting from the field and 24% (4-17) from the 3-point line. Sacramento State is currently the Big Sky Conference's top team - and third in the nation - in points allowed per game (57.8 ppg).

The Thunderbirds did not break 30 in either half and Sacramento State never trailed the final 37 minutes of the contest. That included a lead of at least seven points the entire second half and final 29 minutes of the contest.

The victory improved Sacramento State to 13-10 overall, 6-8 in the Big Sky and 9-2 at home. The Hornets have won their last two games, which included a road victory at Idaho State last Saturday. Sacramento State won its first eight home games of the season and lost its last two before hopping back on the winning side of the ledger tonight. The Hornets are now 76-32 inside the Nest dating back to 2012.

Sacramento State also stretched its dominance at home against Southern Utah - the Hornets have won seven straight, and 11 of the last 12 meetings against the Thunderbirds at the Nest.

Southern Utah, which began the night ranked fourth in the Big Sky standings, dropped to 14-10 overall and 7-6 in league. The win for Sacramento State also avenged a 74-49 loss earlier this year to the Thunderbirds in Cedar City in which the Hornets suffered their most lopsided defeat of the season.

The Hornets' trio of Izayah Mauriohooho-Le'afa (21), Bryce Fowler (17) and Brandon Davis (16) combined for 54 of the Hornets' 70 points. Mauriohooho-Le'afa was on fire in the first half, scoring 15 points on 5-of-7 from beyond the arc. His personal 9-0 run, which included three straight 3-pointers, stretched a 10-10 tie to a 19-10 Hornet lead at the 12:32 mark of the first half. That proved to be a lethal run as Southern Utah got no closer than six points the rest of the way.

The 21 points were two shy of Mauriohooho-Le'afa's career high and he finished 7-of-12 from the field, 5-for-9 from the 3-point line and 2-of-2 from the free throw line while adding five rebounds, five assists and zero turnovers in 35 minutes. He also finished with a game-high +20 in plus/minus.

Fowler finished with 17 points (11 in the second half) on 6-14 FG and 5-6 FT while also adding five rebounds, four assists and a career-best three blocked shots. Fowler continued his hot streak as the junior swingman has scored at least 14 points in three of the last four games. Davis, a sophomore point guard, scored a season-high tying 16 points (5-10 FG, 5-6 FT) go with a pair of assists and two steals.

The game was physical throughout as the teams combined for 46 fouls and 55 free throw attempts. Southern Utah was 21-for-28 from the line while the Hornets were 19-for-27. A massive 26 fouls were called in the second half. Four players (two from each team) fouled out.

The Hornets shot 42% (22-52) from the field and 44% (7-16) from the 3-point line. The seven 3-pointers were tied for the fourth best single-game output of the year for Sacramento State. The Hornets finished with a season-high 10 blocks, including three each from Fowler and Jordan Cooke-Harper, two from Joshua Patton and one from Osi Nwachukwu and Chibueze Jacobs.

Nwachukwu finished with five points, four rebounds and two steals, and Jacobs had five points, six rebounds and two steals. Patton was held without a field goal and finished with four points and four rebounds to go with his two blocked shots.

Southern Utah was paced by Andre Adams' 15 points, six rebounds and four blocked shots.

The Hornets have just six regular season games remaining on the schedule (three at home), including Saturday night vs. Northern Colorado at 7:05 p.m. In the teams' first matchup, the Hornets lost to the Bears in Greeley, Colo., on Jan. 16.

NOTES -- The Hornets are now 12-1 when scoring 60 points or more.