Hornets take advantage of playing on campus

Mike McGough

The importance of home court advantage over the past four weeks, with a sweep of its opening home stand has been essential to the Sacramento State Hornet’s men’s basketball team this season.

With solid victories against Simpson, Bristol University and Utah Valley, the Hornets have opened the season with a 3-0 home record. The team split the first two games of the season on the road, with a loss at No.13 Gonzaga and a win at UC Riverside, but fell to 1-3 in their recent road trip.

Their 62-74 loss to UC Irvine on Dec. 6 puts the team at an overall record of 4-3 as they return home on Dec. 11 to face Cal State Fullerton.

The Hornets—who retain all five starters from last season—posted an 11-3 record at the Hornets’ Nest a season ago, compared to their 3-12 record on the road and a loss in their only game played at a neutral site.

This season, defense on the home court and solid play on the road will both be important to Sac State’s success in the Big Sky Conference. Coach Brian Katz spoke on the advantages of playing at home.

“There are so many,” Katz said. “You’ve got people here supporting you, you’ve slept in your own bed, the whole deal. There’s just so many.”

Last season’s statistical splits supported some of the disparity between home and road performance, particularly on offense. In 14 home games, the Hornets shot 48.5 percent from the field and scored an average of 73.2 points per game. The team shot 43.7 percent from the field and scored 64.6 points per game in 15 road games.

Some of the disparity can also be attributed to the Hornets facing more challenging opponents on the road than they do at home. Sac State opened the 2014-15 season with a 104-58 road loss to Gonzaga, a team that was ranked 13th in the nation in the Associated Press Top 25 prior to the start of the season. A year ago, Sac State lost to nationally-ranked UCLA by 36 points.

Senior and team co-captain Dylan Garrity talked about his experience against Gonzaga’s men’s basketball team on their home court.

“Playing at Gonzaga was an experience I’ll never forget,” Garrity said. “That’s the toughest place I’ve ever had to play a basketball game. The crowd is just on you the whole time. It’s hard to even hear yourself think there.”

Putting statistics and the strength of opponents aside, there are certain intangible advantages that the players said they enjoy when playing at home.

“It’s just a comfort thing,” Garrity said. “We practice in that gym every single day, so the ball feels good, the floor feels good, and it’s nice to have the crowd behind you.”

Garrity actually posted better scoring numbers on the road than at home during the 2013- 14 season. The guard scored almost two more points per game on the road last season thanks to a field goal percentage of 47.3, better than his 44.3 percent field goal rate at home.

Senior and co-captain Mikh McKinney shares Garrity’s appreciation of crowd support.

“Our fans, they are legitimate fans,” McKinney said. “When they come to the game, they really make a big difference. [With] the small gym that we have, you notice people. You know who comes to the games.”

Likewise, there are disadvantages to playing on the road, as Garrity, McKinney and the rest of the Hornets experienced in their blowout loss at Gonzaga.

“When we’re on the road, it’s just us,” McKinney said. “Just our team versus a whole arena of people against us.”

Junior guard Cody Demps expressed that rest is the biggest advantage of playing at home as opposed to the road.

“Travelling can take a lot out of you,” Demps said. “Early mornings [and] long flights. So you really get to get your rest at home.”

The Hornets understand the benefits of home games and the challenges they must face on the road. But whether they are playing at the Nest or in hostile territory, the focus ultimately lies upon good fundamentals and quality play.

“On the road, we really just try to focus on the same things that we would focus on as if we were at home,” McKinney said.

As a team who, as Katz said, prior to the season might be one of the best potential scoring teams in school history, quality play means quality shooting. A season ago, Sac State shot an average of 51.7 percent from the field in wins and 41.3 percent in losses—across home and road games.

Just three of Sac State’s seven games on the December schedule have been or will be played at home. The Hornets will get to play six of their 10 games in January at the Nest as conference play begins.