Men's Basketball

Hornets move into first place with victory over Eagles

Sacramento State’s Nick Hornsby, (33) forces a turnover as he defends Alec Wintering, (2) of the Portland Pilots in the final seconds of the game at the Hornets Nest on Sunday, Dec. 14, 2014.
Sacramento State’s Nick Hornsby, (33) forces a turnover as he defends Alec Wintering, (2) of the Portland Pilots in the final seconds of the game at the Hornets Nest on Sunday, Dec. 14, 2014. hamezcua@sacbee.com

The Sacramento State men had to do their part on a historic day for area men’s and women’s college basketball on Saturday.

The UC Davis men already had beaten Fullerton 79-68 to stay unbeaten and atop of the Big West Conference. The Sac State women finished with an 8-0 run to upset unbeaten Eastern Washington 73-67 in Cheney, Wash., and move into first place in the Big Sky Conference.

Capping the night to the theme of “Another One Bites the Dust” in front of nearly packed house of an announced 902, the host Sac State men handed previously undefeated Eastern Washington a 90-77 defeat to also move atop the Big Sky Conference.

The Hornets’ 5-1 conference record is their best since joining the Big Sky in 1996-97.

“I told our guys, ‘Hey, look, the next 36 hours I want you to get used to that feeling,’” Sac State coach Brian Katz said. “You wake up Monday morning, you’ll be grinding. … You’ll be playing like underdogs. No matter what happens, if our guys play like underdogs, we’re going to have a chance.”

The Hornets (11-6), renowned for their teamwork, ramped it up even more in beating an Eastern Washington team (13-5, 4-1) that had upset Indiana in Bloomington earlier in the season and features the nation’s top scorer in junior Tyler Harvey.

The 6-foot-4 Harvey came in averaging 23.4 points a game, and though he finished with 21, they were hard-earned as he was limited to 12 shots (he made six free throws).

Offensively, Sac State had 25 assists, with senior star Mikh McKinney leading the way with a career-high 12 in addition to 14 points while playing all but one minute.

Junior guard Cody Demps, the team’s defensive stopper, was the primary defender on Harvey. But the Pleasant Grove High School graduate had a breakthrough offensive performance with a career-high 22 points, including 10 of 10 from the free-throw line. He also had five assists and four rebounds.

“He has such a high ceiling for improvement,” Katz said. “He’s a team-first guy. ... We felt he needs to be a little more assertive, and tonight he was.”

The Hornets shot a sizzling 63.3 percent from the field and were 21 of 26 (80.8 percent) from the free-throw line.

“We knew they were going to focus on trying to stop Mikh and Dylan (Garrity),” Demps said. “We’ve done a lot of work in practice under heavy defensive pressure. Credit our scout team; they’ve been picking it up in practice. It’s almost harder for us than it is in the game.”

Forward Nick Hornsby had 12 points and five rebounds, and reserve guard Dreon Barlett also had 12 points, hitting all four of his three-point attempts.

“We’re constantly tweaking it and trying to get more production from our other guys,” Katz said. “Eastern Washington’s plan was not to allow Mikh to get penetration, so Mikh says, ‘OK, I’ll have 12 assists.’”

Bogdan Bliznyuk had 19 points and 10 rebounds, and former Sierra College standout Drew Brandon had 13 points for Eastern Washington. But the Eagles missed 6-8 shot-blocking forward Venky Jois and his 18 points per game. He injured his leg in the Eagles’ win over Portland State on Thursday.

The Eagles came in sixth in the nation in three-point percentage at 41.5. But they made just 9 of 27 (33percent) against the Hornets.

While Garrity was averaging 18.2 points in conference play along with McKinney entering the game, he was held to seven points. But Garrity had six assists and five rebounds.

Sac State is 8-1 at home this year, and has won 12 of its last 14 conference games at the Nest dating to last season.

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