The Sacramento State and UC Davis men’s basketball programs have been dynamite at home the last two seasons.
So even in a rivalry game that has proved unpredictable, the Hornets held court Tuesday night by rallying to defeat the Aggies 84-79 at The Nest in front of a sold-out, standing room crowd of 1,472.
Senior guard Cody Demps led the Hornets (4-0) with 22 points, including 14 of 19 from the foul line, and sophomores Marcus Graves and Justin Strings each added 14 to improve Sac State’s home-court record to 15-2 over the last two seasons. It also matches Sac State’s best start in school history.
Junior guard Brynton Lemar led the Aggies (2-2) with a career-high 21 points, junior guard Darius Graham had a career-high 17 points and senior forward Josh Fox had 16 points and a team Division I record 18 rebounds.
The teams combined for 54 personal fouls in a physical game that featured 11 lead changes and eight ties before Strings’ jumper put the Hornets ahead to stay, 71-69 with 3:55 to play.
The Causeway Cup moves to the Pavilion next Wednesday, where the Aggies are 16-1 since the start of last season.
The teams did not play last year, but there hasn’t been much of a home-court advantage in the series’ 113 games.
In their last meeting in 2013, Sac State defeated UCD 73-67 at the Pavilion. But the Aggies previously defeated Sac State twice at The Nest. Before Tuesday night, Sac State’s last home win was in 2008, though Hornets coach Brian Katz is 5-2 overall against the Aggies, undefeated in Davis in his eight seasons.
“That’s kind of weird how that works out,” said Demps, who made 7 of 10 free throws in the final 1:47 and had six rebounds and five assists. “I think before we were a little nervous to play in front of the home crowd. We don’t want to let down the supporters and the fans that come out.
“Now we’re past that stage. We use the crowd now to boost us and help us with our energy, especially when you hear them all chanting in the second half.”
The Hornets showed a little better composure down the stretch as the Aggies had 19 turnovers to Sac State’s six. The Hornets scored 22 points off turnovers.
“That’s 13 possessions, that changes things,” Katz said. “They are going to be a good team; they are good team now. (Coach Jim Les has) a bunch of new guys, so they are going to get nothing but better. I think it’s a play here, play there. It would be arrogant for us to sit here and say we out-did whatever.”
Both UCD big men, 6-foot-10 junior Neal Monson (10 points, six rebounds) and 6-10 sophomore Nolan Berry, fouled out, as did junior guard Lawrence White. The Aggies had 30 fouls. Junior forward Nick Hornsby (nine points, nine rebounds) fouled out for Sac State, which had 24.
“They were the aggressor and that showed in the foul trouble our guys got into,” Les said. “We didn’t respond to the backyard brawl as well as I would have liked us to, especially our veteran guys.”
The 6-7 Strings had an impressive performance in his first Causeway Cup. In addition to the late go-ahead basket, he went 5 for 5 from the floor, was 2 for 2 from the foul line and had six rebounds.
“It’s nice when you are making shots,” said Strings, who tied his career high for points. “But I think the other things that we did as a team really helped. We went after loose balls, we crashed the boards pretty well.”