It’s been a while since the Sacramento State men’s basketball team played a dud at the Nest, the Hornets’ cozy home court.
But Saturday’s Big Sky Conference matchup against Portland State certainly qualified.
Playing in front of a packed house of an announced 1,058 – Sac State’s second sellout of the season – the Hornets were dominated in every facet in falling 81-63 to the Vikings and their senior scoring leader, Cameron Forte.
It was Sac State’s worst Big Sky loss at home in nearly five years.
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The 6-foot-7, 220-pound Forte, a Georgia transfer, had a game-high 26 points on 12-of-15 shooting from the floor and added a game-high 12 rebounds and four assists as the Vikings (7-10, 3-3) swept the regular-season series against the Hornets (8-9, 1-5), losers of seven of their last nine games.
Calaen Robinson and Zach Gengler added 13 points apiece, and former Placer High School star Isaiah Pineiro had 10 points for Portland State, which shot 64.2 percent (34 of 53) from the field and 50 percent (6 of 12) from three-point range and outscored the Hornets 48-28 in the paint. The Vikings also had 26 assists.
“They just beat us to everything,” said Sac State coach Brian Katz. “They were better than us in every way tonight. They certainly played well, and we didn’t.”
Sophomore forward Justin Strings led the Hornets with 17 points and grabbed five rebounds. Sophomore guard Marcus Graves added 12 points, four assists and three steals, and junior forward Nick Hornsby had nine points and nine rebounds.
It marked the Hornets’ second consecutive Big Sky loss at home after 11 straight home conference wins dating to 2014.
Sac State also played its fifth consecutive game without senior leader Cody Demps, who lasted just eight minutes in t the first meeting against Portland State (a 76-68 loss on Jan. 2 in Portland, Ore., in the Big Sky opener for both teams) and has been sidelined ever since with a quadriceps injury.
Katz said he has no idea when the former Pleasant Grove High School star might return.
So for a team that opened the season by beating Arizona State and was 6-2 at one point and looking to build on last year’s history-making season, the Hornets are in a major funk.
“My opinion is that, maybe, our guys are looking over their shoulders waiting for Cody to come back,” Katz said. “And we talked about that from Day One because we don’t know the time frame on that at all. So we can’t let this be an excuse.”
The Hornets shot 49 percent (25 of 51) from the field but had too many offensive lulls. They were just 10 of 24 (41.7 percent) in the first half as the Vikings built a 44-27 lead.
Sac State battled back to within 58-50 on a Jiday Ugbaja layup with 8:03 to play before the Vikings again pulled away and led by as many as 21 points late.
“I didn’t see this coming,” Katz said. “We’ve lost our confidence, no question about that. We’re in a funk. Is it not executing? Is it not having Cody? Is it all of the above? Sure, it’s all of the above. We just have to get back to the drawing board.”
The Hornets suffered their biggest Big Sky loss at home since falling to Northern Arizona 63-42 on Feb. 24, 2011.
Sac State, which is 6-3 overall at home but just 1-2 in conference play there, will play at Idaho on Thursday and Eastern Washington next Saturday.