Men’s basketball takes down UC Riverside 70-69

Mike McGough

Coming off a 46-point loss at Gonzaga Friday, Sacramento State’s men’s basketball team rebounded with Monday’s 70-69 win over the UC Riverside Highlanders in a hard-fought road game.

A 2-point jumper by guard Cody Demps with 17 seconds left to play and the following defensive stand clinched the Hornets’ first victory of the regular season.

The Hornets started the game on a 7-0 run, and enjoyed a lead as big as nine points early on. But the game would become a tight affair, with neither team ever securing a double-digit lead. Sac State trailed by seven points with 5:32 to play before mounting a comeback.

Coach Brian Katz explained that the veteran experience of the team—which has retained all five of its starters from last season—was a factor that made the comeback possible.

“The difference in the game was experience down the stretch,” Katz said. “Our guards, senior guards, are very poised, very calm and really know how to play under pressure.”

Guard Mikh McKinney was one of the variables in Sac State’s victory.

McKinney, who did not play Friday against Gonzaga for disciplinary reasons, posted 22 points Monday night, shooting 9-of-16 from the field and three of four from the free-throw line. He also reeled in four rebounds on defense, tallied four assists and had two steals.

McKinney was just one of four Hornets with double-digit scoring totals.

Guard Dylan Garrity was also a key factor, as he drained 3-of-6 attempts of 3-pointers en route to scoring 11 points. Center Eric Stuteville scored 12 points and made 5-of-11 attempted field goals.

These three got a good workout—McKinney, Garrity and Stuteville played 39, 37 and 36 minutes, respectively.

Perhaps the Hornets’ most efficient scorer was senior forward Zach Mills, who shot 7-of-8 and scored 15 points in 26 minutes. Mills also led the team with five rebounds.

Mills hit a 2-point jumper at the halftime buzzer to give the Hornets a 31-29 lead.

The Hornets sealed their victory in the final minute. After making a layup to trim the deficit to a single point with 1:15 to play, McKinney stole the ball away from UC Riverside’s leading scorer, Taylor Johns, with 34 seconds on the clock.

McKinney’s steal set up Cody Demps’ game-winning shot with 17 seconds to play.

“I just think to be a really good team, you have to be able to win a variety of ways,” Katz said. “You’ve got to be able to have a lead and hang on. You’ve got to be able to make big shots down the stretch. You’ve got to be able to come from behind. So I was really impressed with that, that we came back.”

The Highlanders received one final possession to try to take back the win. But the Hornets played tight defense, with McKinney reeling in a final defensive rebound to take the win.

Sac State showed signs of dominance early on, as the Hornets led 18-9 within nine minutes of play. The Highlanders struggled from long-range early, missing their first six attempts from behind the arc.

Though the Hornets shot 29-of-53 from the field, good for almost 55 percent, Katz said there was room for improvement on the offensive side.

“I thought our offensive execution was a little sluggish at times,” Katz said. “We didn’t execute great for most of the game. We’ve got to work on that.”

Katz noted that the team’s assist total of 13 for the game was too low. The coach considered some of the offensive sloppiness to be early-season issues as the team tries to get in sync.

The Hornets, who entered the game with a 5-12 historical disadvantage against UC Riverside, found their first win on the Highlanders’ home court. Sac State had been 0-6 playing at UC Riverside prior to Monday night’s victory.

“We certainly have some areas to clean up, but overall, I’m very pleased,” Katz said.

Sac State’s next game will be played 7:05 p.m. Wednesday at home against Simpson University.