In a league known for guards, two of the Big Sky’s best backcourts put on a show Thursday.
Sacramento State seniors Mikh McKinney and Dylan Garrity led the third-seeded Hornets to a 70-60 victory over Portland State in the opening round of the Big Sky Conference tournament. McKinney, the Big Sky’s MVP, scored 24 points, including a clutch three-pointer that swung the momentum late and the game-icing free throws. Garrity scored 22 points, including his team’s first seven and four in the game’s final three minutes.
The Hornets (20-10) will play Eastern Washington (24-8) in Friday’s semifinals at 4:30 p.m.
“They are as good as anyone in the country as a tandem,” Sac State coach Brian Katz, the co-Big Sky Coach of the Year, said after the Hornets earned their first postseason win since 2006. “Wonderful kids, great leaders, captains. Great men.”
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McKinney’s and Garrity’s efforts offset strong games by Portland State’s All-Big Sky backcourt of junior Gary Winston and senior DaShaun Wiggins. Winston was 10 of- 14, from the field, and scored a game-high 26 points, and Wiggins had 12 points, including three three-pointers, for the sixth-seeded Vikings (15-14).
“You definitely have to give them some credit, but at the same time, I never thought for one minute they were better than myself or DaShaun,” Winston said. “I’ve been playing basketball for a long time, so I’ve seen different players across the country. We are as good as anyone, but give them credit.”
With Portland State trailing 57-52 with 3:36 left, Winston made a pull-up jump shot in the lane. On the next possession, McKinney forced a three-pointer as the shot clock wound down. Wiggins grabbed the rebound and had an excellent look at a tying three-pointer, but the ball rimmed out. The Hornets pushed the miss upcourt to McKinney, who made a three-pointer with 2:27 left. Instead of a tie score, the Hornets had a six-point lead and Portland State got no closer.
“If I make that shot, we win the game,” Wiggins said. “It felt good. It came out of the rim. That hurts.”
Sac State junior Cody Demps scored all 13 of his points after halftime. Demps combined with McKinney and Garrity to score 59 of the Hornets’ 70 points, including 40 of 43 second-half points.
The victory gave the Hornets their first 20-win season since moving up to Division I in 1991. It also helped take the sting out of the Hornets’ late-season failure.
Entering last weekend, Sac State needed one win on a road trip to Southern Utah and Northern Arizona, but the Hornets lost both. Instead of hosting its first Big Sky tournament, Sac State had to scramble to get to Montana.
“It was good for us,” McKinney said. “We wanted to win, but you have to learn to lose before you can win. Ending with those two losses on the road, that woke us up a little bit.”
Now the Hornets’ attention turns to today’s semifinal against co-league champion Eastern Washington, a 91-83 winner over Idaho (13-17) in Thursday’s first game. Tyler Harvey, the nation’s leading scorer, scored a career-high 42 points, making 8 of 12 three-point attempts, to lead Eastern Washington.
“We always talk about how we are underdogs,” Garrity said. “Everyone in that locker room was not recruited very highly. Going on the road, getting the three-seed, played into our hands a little bit because now we are the underdogs again.”
Colter Nuanez is a freelance journalist who’s covered the Big Sky since 2007. He can be reached at BobcatBeat56@gmail.com.