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  • Dylan Garrity: He was nominated for a prestigious award.

  • Mikh McKinney: He's second on the team with 12.3 points per game.

Sac State men can earn Big Sky basketball berth with win

Published: Saturday, Mar. 9, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3C
Last Modified: Saturday, Mar. 9, 2013 - 7:42 pm

It all comes down to today.

If the Sacramento State men's basketball team beats Montana State in Bozeman, Mont., it will land a spot in the Big Sky Conference tournament for the first time since 2006.

If the Hornets (14-14, 8-11) lose today, they'll need plenty of help. Conference leader Montana (22-6, 18-1) would have to lose at home to Northern Arizona (11-19, 8-11), and North Dakota (14-15, 11-8) would have to beat Southern Utah (11-18, 8-11.)

It's a four-team race between Sac State, Montana State (12-16, 9-10), Northern Arizona and Southern Utah for the final three spots in the tournament.

A win today also would give the Hornets their first winning season since they joined Division I in 1991 and their most Big Sky victories since 1996-97.

The Hornets' fortunes have improved this season largely because of point guard Dylan Garrity and shooting guard Mikh McKinney.

"We can feel the atmosphere changing, and our goal is to start a legacy," said McKinney, a 6-foot-1 sophomore who played in community college at Ohlone in Fremont last season before taking his only scholarship offer and moving to Sacramento. "Making the postseason would be a big step."

McKinney is averaging 12.3 points, second on the team behind senior forward John Dickson's 12.8. McKinney also leads the Hornets' guards with 3.3 rebounds per game, impressive considering McKinney weighs maybe 150 pounds despite being listed at 165.

"He really rebounds, and if we let him go to the offensive boards, he'd get them," Sac State coach Brian Katz said. "He's a lot stronger than you think. Against UC Santa Barbara, we put him in the middle against their zone. They have the big 7-footer, and McKinney scored with jump hooks right over the top. He's fearless."

Just after McKinney committed to Sac State, Katz told him that he probably wouldn't start. But all it took was one scrimmage, and McKinney has started every game since.

"We scrimmaged UC Riverside down there, and (Mikh) went into the game, and I remember saying to my assistants, 'He's the best player on the floor,' " Katz said. "He had like 25 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and defended like crazy. I felt like an idiot. I was going, 'He's our best player,' and that day he was, and he's just never stopped."

Katz said his guard tandem is interchangeable. He's just as comfortable with McKinney bringing the ball up and Garrity taking the big shots, as he did last week when he made three three-pointers to lead the Hornets to a 53-52 win over visiting Idaho State. A loss to the last-place Bengals would have ended the Hornets' chance for a spot in the conference tournament.

Garrity, in his second season, was one of 68 point guards nominated for the Bob Cousy Award, given to the nation's best point guard. He's averaging 11.6 points and 5.2 assists.

"Dylan is a pass-first point who can score, and Mikh is a scoring point that can pass," Katz said. "The big stat last (season) for us was we averaged 14 turnovers a game, which is a lot, and we lost a bunch of close games. This offseason, in recruiting, we wanted to get two more ballhandlers. One of them is Cody (Demps), and the other is Mikh. So now we go from 14 turnovers to 11. And for the first time since I've been here, our opponents have made more turnovers than we have."

Like McKinney, Garrity said he can feel the atmosphere changing at the Nest. Home games are fun, he said, and crowds are larger. Basketball is relevant on campus again.

"Coming in as a freshman, and even the year before that, I heard about the type of players they had, and it wasn't a good culture," Garrity said. "So coming in last year, we kind of built the foundation.

"We still had a couple of knuckleheads who didn't make it to the end of the (season). But toward the end of my freshman year, we really started laying down that foundation for the future. And as soon as we got guys like Mikh and Joey (Quigley), Cody Demps and Jordan Salley, we just took off from there."

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Mark Billingsley



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