After losing two games on the road, the Sacramento State men’s basketball team got back to what they do best Thursday night – winning at The Nest and making some more program history.
Behind Mikh McKinney’s 23 points and two steals, Dylan Garrity’s 12 points and three assists and Cody Demps’ outstanding all-around game, the Hornets defeated Northern Colorado 66-59 to stay within a half game of first place Eastern Washington and remain tied with Montana for second place in the Big Sky Conference.
Demps, a junior guard, had eight points, 10 rebounds, eight assists and three blocks as the Hornets (17-7, 11-3) ran their conference record at home to 8-0 and 12-1 overall while clinching a playoff spot.
But it wasn’t easy, which it seldom is for the Hornets.
They fell behind by 10 early in the first half, led by as many as nine late in the half, then fell behind twice to the Bears in the second half before grabbing the lead for good on three McKinney free throws with 4:22 to play.
Sac State’s experience and its fourth consecutive standing-room-only crowd helped the Hornets finish the game on a 17-8 run heading into Saturday’s home finale against North Dakota.
“It’s a game of ebbs and flows, so you have to find a way to grind it out,” said Sac State coach Brian Katz. “The crowd had everything to do with it. We’ve made this a very, very difficult place to play. It’s an intimidating atmosphere.”
The win helped the Hornets achieve a number of significant milestones.
Eleven conference wins is the most since joining the Big Sky Conference in 1996-97.
The 17th win is their most since the 1987-88 season and is tied for fifth most in program history.
It increased the Hornets’ program-record home winning streak against Big Sky teams to nine straight dating back to last season.
A shooting slump that led to losses on the road at Eastern Washington (40.7 percent) and Idaho (41.1) carried over to the first half for the Hornets as they shot 34.8 percent (8 for 23), but they improved to 66.7 percent (14 for 21) in the second half (22-44) to finish at 50 percent. Northern Colorado (12-13, 7-7) shot 41.7 percent.
“It’s always about who stays with it the longest,” McKinney said. “It’s a game of runs and at one point in the second half we were down a couple of points (51-49 with 6:05 to play), but we stayed with it and went on a nice little run at the end and the crowd did its part, too.”
Saturday’s game against North Dakota will be the last that McKinney, Garrity and fellow seniors Alex Tiffin and Zach Mills play at The Nest.
“It’s going to be very emotional,” Katz said. “I’m going to have to bite my lip. What these four guys have done for this program, for this school, is just amazing. I don’t even want to think about not having those four guys in the program. ”