SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Sacramento State scored 34 points in the first quarter and led by as many as 25 in the first half and, despite scoring just 24 total points in the second half, put together its best defensive effort of the season for an 81-69 home win over Southern Utah on Thursday night.
The 69 points scored by Southern Utah was a season-low opponent total for the Hornets, who forced 33 turnovers and took 27 more shots than the Thunderbirds to keep them below 70 points despite SUU shooting 52% from the field.
"When you have a 34-point period its never going to be that easy," Sacramento State head coach Bunky Harkleroad said. "Tonight was a poor shooting night overall but things balance out. In the last two games we've gotten 54 more shots than our opponents but we haven't shot it well. The last game we got 16 steals and tonight we had 17 and the last game we forced 27 turnovers and tonight 33, so we are getting better defensively and we just need to get everybody clicking."
Sacramento State (5-10, 1-3 Big Sky) picked up its first league win and won its fifth consecutive game against Southern Utah (5-10, 0-4 Big Sky), which had taken Northern Arizona to overtime and lost by just three points against North Dakota early in the conference season.
Seniors Gretchen Harrigan and Ashlyn Crenshaw each scored 18 points while senior Emily Easom scored 17 points (all in the first half) and junior Maranne Johnson finished with 13. Those four accounted for 66 of the team's 81 points while Johnson, who hit one 3-pointer on the night, totaled a career high nine steals, just one shy of the program record of 10 steals set last year by Adella Randle-El.
Senior Margaret Huntington, the leading rebounder in the Big Sky, had 11 rebounds on Thursday while freshman Kennedy Nicholas pulled down a career-high 10 boards in just 11 minutes played. The Hornets had 19 offensive rebounds but were out-boarded 50-37 overall.
The Hornets shot 13-of-27 (48%) in the first quarter, jumping out to a 14-3 lead less then two and a half minutes into the game. Sacramento State led by as many as 19 points in the first quarter and led by 23 points, 57-34, at the half.
A Huntington layup two minutes into the third quarter gave the Hornets a game-high 26-point lead at 62-36. Sacramento State still led 71-52 going to the fourth despite shooting just 25% in the third quarter. Southern Utah continued to chip away in the fourth and cut its deficit to as few as 10 points in the final minute but the Hornets held on.
After shooting 6-of-20 (30%) from 3-point range in the first half Sacramento State was 2-of-23 (9%) from the arc in the second half, including an 0-of-8 mark on long balls in the fourth quarter. The home team finished at 19% from 3-point range, its second lowest 3-point percentage of the season, but earned the win after having been 0-9 when shooting below 30% from the arc this season.
The Hornets were outscored 35-24 in the second half but held Southern Utah to 17 points in three quarters and 18 in the other in a comprehensive defensive effort. The Hornets had just 13 turnovers and outscored the Thunderbirds 27-12 in points off turnovers and 13-4 in fast break points.
Darri Frandsen led three SUU players in double figures with 19 points and 10 rebounds. The Thunderbirds attempted just eight 3-pointers, making two, and were 5-of-10 at the free throw line.
Sacramento State concludes its season-long three game homestand on Saturday hosting Northern Arizona at 2:05 p.m. The Lumberjacks, who are 5-9 overall and 1-2 in Big Sky play, were supposed to play at Portland State on Thursday but that game was postponed until Monday due to travel conditions in Portland.