Behind veteran guards Mikh McKinney, Dylan Garrity and Cody Demps, the Sacramento State men’s basketball team is going where few Hornets teams have gone before.
After coming from behind to beat Idaho 79-76 at The Nest on Thursday night, the Hornets are 4-1 in the Big Sky Conference and 10-6 overall.
That matches Sac State’s best Big Sky record after five games ‑ the 2005-06 squad was also 4-1 ‑ and the second-place Hornets will be playing for first place on Saturday night when 4-0 Eastern Washington comes to the Nest. The Eagles beat Portland State 92-85 in Portland on Thursday.
The Hornets have a penchant for winning nail-biters at home, where they are 7-1 at home this season and 11-2 in conference games dating back to last season.
“It’s nice,” said seven-year Sac State coach Brian Katz. “I can remember when we first took over we were just battling to win a game.”
Trailing by eight points with 8:41 to play, the Hornets rallied behind McKinney’s 32 points on 12 of 19 shooting and five assists, Demps’ 17 points and five rebounds and Garrity’s 13 points, four assists and two steals. McKinney, a senior, and Demps, a junior, tied their career highs.
Demps also came up with the game’s biggest play. He grabbed a defensive rebound in a sea of hands with six seconds and was fouled. That came 18 seconds after Demps missed two free throws.
“I needed to get that board,” Demps said. “Our coach tells us don’t worry about mistakes, try to be fearless. So I put (the misses) out of my mind.”
Demps sank both second-chance free throws and Idaho’s Connor Hill missed a long three-pointer with a second to play.
“That might be the play of the game right there,” McKinney said. “They are very good rebounding team.”
Idaho (7-8, 2-2) came into the game as the Big Sky Conference leaders in total rebounds (37.1), defensive rebounds (25.8) and rebound margin (4.9) while averaging 78.1 points a game.
“I thought we did pretty well on the boards,” Katz said.
Idaho outrebounded Sac State 37 to 31 but the Hornets had 11 offensive boards to the Vandals’ nine.
Idaho also was the Big Sky leader and No. 3 nationally in three-point shooting percentage (41.9)
While Sekou Wiggs had 22 points and Hill added 20, the Hornets buckled down in the second half defensively as Idaho made only two of 11 threes after hitting 6 of 14 in the first half. They shot 50 percent but just 32 percent from three.
“I like to tell you we made great adjustments,” Katz said of the Hornets, who trailed 41-33 at the half. “But we just challenged our guys. We told them, ‘You’ve got to keep people in front of you. You’ve got to do a better job.’ ”
Sac State, which has never had a winning season at Division I, continues to put an end to dubious streaks. Idaho had beaten the Hornets 13 consecutive times and had topped the Hornets all six previous times they played in Sacramento.
“It’s nice to be kind of doing new things as far as the school’s history,” McKinney said. “But we don’t pay to much attention to that. We just go out and try to win every game.”
Sac State also got an unexpected assist from seven-year Idaho coach Don Verlin, who went to high school at Del Oro. He was assessed a technical and had to be restrained by his assistants after yelling at the officials just as the first half ended.
Garrity made both technicals to open the second half.