No. 10-seeded Sacramento State looked to repeat recent and ancient history in Thursday night’s meeting with No. 2 Montana in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky Conference men’s basketball tournament at the Reno Events Center.
The old: The Hornets upset the Grizzlies 88-75 in the 2003 tournament quarterfinals in Missoula, Mont., the teams’ only previous meeting in the Big Sky tournament.
The recent: Sac State overcame a 20-point, second-half deficit on Feb. 4 to upset the Grizzlies 83-79 at the Nest, one of the Hornets’ great comeback victories.
But the new didn’t work out so well for the Hornets.
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Sac State missed too many shots, and Montana’s man-among-boys, Martin Breunig, had 24 points and 16 rebounds to lead the Grizzlies past the Hornets 70-53 and move Montana (20-10) into Friday’s semifinals.
Sac State (14-17) led 5-1 less than three minutes into the game but quickly fell behind and struggled the rest of the way to find good looks against Montana’s active defense. When the Hornets did, their shots seldom fell.
The Grizzlies used a strong inside-outside game anchored by Breunig, a 6-foot-8 senior forward from Leverkusen, Germany, to control the game. The All-Big Sky Conference first-team selection was 10 of 18 from the floor, grabbed 12 defensive rebounds and four offensive boards, and blocked three shots.
We’re a team at times that has trouble scoring, and that’s streaky on the perimeter, and we were certainly that tonight.
Brian Katz, Sac State coach
Breunig had 16 first-half points as the Grizzlies jumped to a 36-21 halftime lead. Sacramento State got no closer than 10 points in the second half.
“In my mind, Breunig was the difference,” said Sac State coach Brian Katz. “Whenever you have a player that commands a double team down low and is that effective, it’s a problem and it opens everyone else up.”
Walter Wright had 12 points and six assists, and Mario Dunn added 10 points and four rebounds to complement Breunig.
Justin Strings led Sac State with 14 points, and Jeff Wu scored 11, but the Hornets shot a collective 36 percent (19 of 53) from the floor and had three scoring droughts of four minutes or longer. Marcus Graves and Cody Demps, who both average double figures in scoring, combined for 10 points.
“We’re a team at times that has trouble scoring, and that’s streaky on the perimeter, and we were certainly that tonight,” Katz said.
The Hornets shot 21.4 percent (6 of 28) from three-point range.
Montana coach Travis DeCuire said he didn’t need to discuss the previous game against Sac State to motivate his team.
“No, I didn’t go there,” DeCuire said. “I just wanted to remind them that we’re a better team when we are aggressive.”
Strings figured the Grizzlies would be focused.
“Definitely,” Strings said “We came back on them late (in February), and I’m sure they were feeling they let it get away. Both teams wanted to win. Hats off to them.”
The result was a buzz kill for a Hornets team that seemed to be gaining momentum at the end of the season and looking to match the four-game winning streak to open the season.
The Hornets won the last two games of the regular season, then beat Montana State on Tuesday in the opening round of the Big Sky tournament.