Men’s basketball beat Cal State Fullerton, stay undefeated at home

Mike McGough

Entering the game on a two-game losing streak, Sacramento State’s men’s basketball team defeated the Cal State Fullerton Titans Thursday night by a score of 73-59.

The Hornets improved their overall record to 5-3 on the season and 4-0 at The Nest with the victory.

Head coach Brian Katz felt the game was a hard-fought win for the Hornets.

“I just liked our toughness tonight,” Katz said. “We missed some open shots early, and we were down 9-4. We did not allow it to affect our defense or our psyche. We kind of grinded back into the game.”

The game was a tight one from the start, with neither team taking a lead greater than five points until Sac State took a 25-18 advantage with 3:27 remaining in the first half.

As a team, the Hornets managed to overcome turnover problems that had plagued them over their last few games. Sac State came into Thursday night’s game averaging more than 15 turnovers per game. The team turned the ball over just nine times against Cal State Fullerton.

“I just think we kind of have a tendency to play a little too fast,” Katz said. “And we just kind of calmed down and slowed it down.”

The Hornets shot 25 of 53 (47.2 percent) from the field and made five of 15 (33.3 percent) of their three-point attempts.

Sac State had early trouble on offense, scoring just 12 points in the game’s first 12 minutes. Solid defense and a free throw rate of almost 95 percent helped to seal the win for the Hornets.

After Sac State went into halftime with a 33-24 advantage, the Titans answered with a flurry of threes early in the second half that kept the game highly competitive.

The Hornets led by as few as three points with less than three minutes to play in the game. A three-pointer by senior Dylan Garrity with 1:23 to play proved to be the dagger, giving the Hornets an eight point lead and forcing the Titans to play the foul game.

Senior guard Mikh McKinney was the leading scorer among both teams Thursday night with 21 points. McKinney made eight of 14 field goal attempts and had six steals in a team-leading 36 minutes on the floor.

“[I] go into a game, and if [I] see that the other guards are loose with the ball or [I] feel like [I] can get in there a little bit, then I like to take advantage of that opportunity,” McKinney said. “And today, they kind of just gave me the ball.”

Another key component to Sac State’s victory Thursday night was senior center Alex Tiffin, who came in off the bench in place of Eric Stuteville and scored 15 points.

After playing a total of just 24 minutes in the Hornets’ last two road games combined, Tiffin spent 28 minutes on the floor Thursday night.

Tiffin’s impact was immediate, as he scored 10 of his 15 points in the first half. For the game, he made four of seven field goal attempts and was a perfect seven-for-seven from the free-throw line.

“He was phenomenal tonight,” Katz said.

Tiffin, who started 29 of his team’s 30 games a season ago, has started just one of the team’s eight games so far this season.

“I thought I played well tonight,” Tiffin said. “I didn’t try to do anything outside of my role. I just played my role, and took shots when I was open and passed the ball when I needed to.”

Despite the win, team co-captain McKinney knows that there is always room for improvement.

“We can get better on offensive execution, running our plays right,” McKinney said. “We work really hard to get our baskets sometimes, and it would be nice to just get an easy one here and there. And [we] can always get better on defense.”

Despite the 14-point scoring difference, the Titans actually shot 22 of 44 (50 percent) from the field, a higher rate than that of Sac State.

Overall, the Hornets were pleased with a Thursday night victory that kept them undefeated at home.

“I’m proud of everybody,” McKinney said. “All the guys on the team came in and played their roles. We started off a little bit slow with the scoring. We stayed with it on defense, and then eventually shots started to fall, and we pulled out with the win.”

The Hornets will play their next game at 5:05 p.m. Sunday at The Nest, where they will host Portland. Only three games remain before conference play begins on New Year’s Day.