The best season in Sacramento State men’s basketball history came to a close with a 78-73 loss to Northern Arizona Saturday night in the second round of the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament at The Nest.
The Hornets (21-12), who led by 14 points with 15:44 to play, couldn’t hold off a sizzling run by their Big Sky Conference rivals in front of an announced sellout of 1,137, including Kings coach George Karl and point guard Andre Miller.
It was the team’s sixth consecutive sellout.
Northern Arizona (21-12) shot 78 percent in the second half in handing Sac State only its second loss in 15 home games while snapping the Hornets’ nine-game winning streak at The Nest.
A deep three-point attempt by Mikh McKinney that would have tied the game with seven seconds left rimmed in and out.
“Mikh has done it time and time again the past three years,” said senior guard Dylan Garrity. “He got a great look at it and it went half-way down and came back up. So it just wasn’t meant to be.”
McKinney had 18 points but was limited to 7 of 21 shooting as Northern Arizona constantly ran multiple defenders at the Big Sky Conference Player of the Year. Garrity had 18 points, Cody Demps 16 and Eric Stuteville 11.
But Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year Jordyn Martin showed he is a pretty good offensive player, too. He had a game-high 27 points on 12 of 16 shooting and Quinton Upshur added 22 points, including three free throws that put Northern Arizona ahead to stay 71-70 with 3:29 to play.
“They just didn’t quit, they stayed with it,” Sac State coach Brian Katz said of Northern Arizona. “Give them credit. I was pretty impressed with the way they hung in there.”
Northern Arizona advances to the quarterfinals against an opponent to be determined.
It figured to be a close game.
The Hornets and Lumberjacks finished tied for third with 13-5 conference records and their regular season matchups also went down to the final minutes.
The Hornets won at the Nest, 78-73, on Jan. 1, and NAU won in Flagstaff, 70-68, on the final day of the regular season to deny the Hornets a chance to host the conference tournament.
The game marked the end of the brilliant careers of McKinney and Garrity, arguably two of the best to ever don a Hornets uniform.
“It’s hard to put things into words, honestly,” said Garrity, holding back tears in the locker room. “I can’t say enough about Coach Katz and the coaching staff and everybody in our locker room. It was a great four years, the best four years of my life.”
Garrity, McKinney and the other Hornets toppled a number of milestones.
The Hornets had their first winning season in Division I history dating back to 1991. They had the second most wins in school history, reached the postseason for the first time since 1988 and won a postseason game for the first time in 53 years.
“Obviously it was a huge breakthrough for us,” Katz said. “So many milestones fell.
“This group catapulted our program and school forward in terms of interest and people following us. ... I think these guys created a new mindset. Once people saw how hard these kids played, they got behind them.”
NORTHERN ARIZONA 78,
SAC STATE 73
N. ARIZONA (21-14): Martin 12-16 3-4 27, Springs 0-0 0-0 0, Dixon 2-7 0-0 4, Upshur 5-11 9-11 22, Yanku 2-4 0-0 5, T. de Laveaga 0-1 0-0 0, Kaluna 4-6 1-1 9, Reynolds 0-0 0-0 0, Bewernick 4-8 3-4 11.
Totals 29-53 16-20 78.
SAC STATE (21-12): Mills 0-0 0-0 0, Tiffin 0-0 0-0 0, Demps 6-9 3-5 16, Garrity 6-11 3-4 18, McKinney 7-21 2-2 18, Barlett 0-0 0-0 0, Strings 0-0 0-0 0, M. Stuteville 1-4 0-0 2, Hornsby 4-9 0-0 8, E. Stuteville 3-4 5-6 11. Totals 27-58 13-17 73.
Halftime – Sac State 33-30. Three-point goals – N. Arizona 4-11 (Upshur 3-5, Yanku 1-1, Kaluna 0-1, Bewernick 0-2, Dixon 0-2), Sacramento St. 6-18 (Garrity 3-5, McKinney 2-10, Demps 1-1, M. Stuteville 0-2). Fouled out – Demps. Rebounds – N. Arizona 31 (Martin, Springs 6), Sacramento St. 28 (Hornsby, McKinney, E. Stuteville 6). Assists—N. Arizona 17 (Yanku 8), Sacramento St. 11 (McKinney 4). Total fouls – N. Arizona 16, Sacramento St. 15. Technical – Upshur. A – 1,137.