Even without their usual pregame nap, senior guards Dylan Garrity and Mikh McKinney combined for 33 points to lead Sacramento State past Portland State 64-60 Saturday afternoon at the Nest in another historic day for the men’s basketball program.
In holding off the upset-minded Vikings (11-10, 5-6) in front of their third consecutive standing-room-only crowd, the Hornets (16-6, 10-1) remained atop the Big Sky Conference and guaranteed their first winning season of the Division I era (since 1991-92).
The Hornets ran their winning streak to seven games, their longest in 39 years, and upped their home-court record to 11-1, including 7-0 in conference games, entering Thursday’s Big Sky showdown at second-place Eastern Washington (18-5, 9-1).
“It’s a long, long road still ahead of us,” said McKinney, who had a team-high 17 points, four assists and four steals in a hair under the full 40 minutes.
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Against Portland State, the Hornets appeared on their way to an easy win in going up by 14 points in the first half and leading 33-24 at halftime. But the Vikings went on a 14-2 run to open the second half to lead 38-35 with just under 16 minutes to play.
Sac State didn’t secure the win until Garrity hit two free throws with 17 seconds left to go up 64-60. Alex Tiffin blocked a three-point attempt by Portland State’s Tiegbe Bamba, and Tim Douglas missed the front end of a one-and-one in the final seconds.
The Hornets forced Portland State into 17 turnovers and had 12 steals, their second-highest total of the season.
Afterward, Garrity scanned the stat sheet and saw that Portland State had played well inside, thanks to 6-foot-6 forwards Bamba and Braxton Tucker. They combined for 31 points and 12 rebounds, and the Vikings outrebounded the Hornets 36-28.
“We got our (tails) kicked on the boards,” said Garrity, who had 16 points, five assists and three steals. “We’re going to get hammered on that in practice. We’re definitely going to focus on that.”
Garrity said playing at 2 p.m. instead of the usual 7 p.m. tipoff “was weird.” Most of the Hornets like to nap in the afternoon, Garrity noted, but the game was moved up to avoid a conflict with an athletic department fundraiser that night.
The Hornets’ career assists leader, a four-year starter, said he sometimes sleeps for nearly two hours before a game.
“I wasn’t used to waking up so early this morning,” Garrity said.
McKinney said athletes are creatures of habit, especially when Sac State is doing so well. The 10-1 Big Sky record is easily the best mark in program history, and the Hornets have never been in first place this late in the season since joining the league in 1996-97. Their 16-6 overall record is the program’s best since the 1987-88 squad was 17-5 and the third-best after 22 games in program history.
“Most Saturdays, you have all day to prepare,” McKinney said. “You can lie around and relax a little. So today was a little different. But Portland State (also) had to play at 2. So it really wasn’t that big a deal.”
Tiffin, the Hornets’ reserve senior center, came on like a jolt of caffeine just when Sac State needed it in the second half. The last of his three consecutive baskets during a two-minute span took the Hornets from a 46-46 tie to a 52-48 lead with 8:12 to go. They never trailed again.
Tiffin finished with seven points, four rebounds, two blocks and two assists.
“He was phenomenal,” said Sac State coach Brian Katz. “We needed him tonight. The key with him is that there are so many things he does that don’t show up in the box score – post defense, executing the offense.”
While Katz was pleased his Hornets continued to make history, the celebration will be short.
“Five of our last seven are away,” Katz said. “So the schedule does not favor us right now.”
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.
BIG SKY CONFERENCE RACE
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Time: 6:05 p.m. Radio: 1380