Sacramento State men’s basketball coach Brian Katz figured intense defense wouldn’t be an issue for his team against explosive Eastern Washington on Thursday night at the Nest.
The Hornets held the Eagles to one three-pointer in 20 attempts in falling 74-67 Jan. 30 at Eastern Washington. It was one of the lowest point totals for the Eagles in a victory this season for a team averaging a Big Sky Conference best 83.2 points coming into the game.
But the Eagles came out on fire in Sacramento, took an 18-point lead at halftime, then held on for a 93-88 win. It was Eastern Washington’s seventh consecutive win and the Hornets’ fourth consecutive loss, their first four-game losing streak in four years.
Eastern Washington made 9 of its first 10 shots and 15 of its first 19. The Eagles shot 64.7 percent (22 of 34) from the floor, including 53.3 percent from three (8 of 15), in the first 20 minutes.
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“We held them to 74 points up there, and you’d think we’d defend them better at home,” said Sac State coach Brian Katz. “Boy that first half was really bad defensively.
“You can’t take anything for granted. You can’t sit here and say, well, we really guarded them up there, we’ll guard here. Every game is a new day ”
Senior guard Austin McBroom had 22 points and seven assists and senior forward Venky Jois 18 points and 13 rebounds to lead six Eagles in double figures. The six were the only Eastern Washington players to score.
Eastern Washington (16-10, 10-4) shot a collective 53.4 percent (31 of 58) from the field and 42.3 percent (11 of 26) on three-pointers.
The Hornets (10-14, 3-10) trailed by double digits for most of the contest, but went on a 12-3 run in the final two minutes to close to within 92-88 on Jeff Wu’s three-pointer with 17 seconds to play. Eastern Washington’s Julian Harrell’s free throw put the Eagles up five with 15 seconds and Wu missed two three-point attempts at the end.
Sophomore forward Justin Strings had 20 points and 10 rebounds and sophomore guard Marcus Graves 20 points and six assists to lead Sac State.
Senior guard Cody Demps, playing his first game at the Nest since Dec. 29 after missing nine games because of a quadriceps injury, had 14 points and eight assists. Junior center Eric Stuteville had 14 points and junior forward Nick Hornsby had eight points and a career-high 13 rebounds.
Despite the poor first-half performance, Katz saw some positives as the Hornets prepare to play Idaho at home on Saturday, one of five regular season games remaining before the Big Sky tournament in Reno in March.
He liked that the Hornets scored a Big Sky season high 88 points while moving the ball and compiling 21 assists. They also had a season-low-tying six turnovers, none in the second half.
Katz credited Demps’ presence. The former Pleasant Grove High star played 32 minutes, the most since coming back from his injury three games ago.
“Cody’s a terrific player,” Katz said. “No doubt he is still rusty. But out of the 21 assists, I’ll give him a lot of the credit. He gets the ball moving.
“I’m certainly disappointed, but I’m not discouraged. We took a step back defensively, which is frustrating, but we took a step up offensively.”
Demps made 5 of 12 shots from the field and 3 of 4 from the free-throw line. In addition to his eight assists, he had four rebounds and two steals.
“The last couple of games we’ve struggled on offense but this game we really picked up on offense,” Demps said. “But we slacked on defense. Defense is how we are going to win games.
“We’ve got five games (left). Hopefully by tournament time, we’ll be playing our best basketball on both sides to make a good run in the postseason.”
Sac State 94, Eastern Washington 91 in Cheney, Wash. – Maranne Johnson broke a 91-91 tie with a long three-pointer with one second left as the Hornets (10-14, 7-6 Big Sky) picked up a huge road win over the second-place Eagles (17-9, 11-3), Sac State reported.