The Portland Pilots defeat Sac State, 80-75, to hand the team their first loss at the Hornets’ Nest

Mike McGough

Despite a career night for senior Mikh McKinney, Sacramento State’s men’s basketball team fell to the Portland Pilots 80-75 Sunday evening in the Hornets’ first home loss of the season.

The highly competitive game dropped the men to 4-1 at the Hornets Nest this season and 5-4 overall. Portland improved to 7-2 overall.

The game was a nail-biter in the final two minutes. In a contest in which they never held a lead, the Hornets trailed by seven points with 1:57 to play. A pair of clutch three-pointers by guards Dreon Barlett and Dylan Garrity made the game a 76-75 affair with 1:11 remaining.

A missed free throw by Portland guard Alec Wintering set up a critical scoring opportunity with under a minute to play. With a chance to take the lead late, unforced turnovers on two separate possessions by junior guards Cody Demps and Barlett with 32 and 10 seconds on the clock, respectively, helped seal Sac State’s fate.

The Hornets’ coach Brian Katz commented on his team coming up just short Sunday night.

“It was a great opportunity, we just didn’t cash in,” Katz said.

The silver lining for the Hornets was a career night turned in by senior guard McKinney. Thanks to a career-high 32 points—accompanied by eight assists and seven steals—McKinney became the 13th player in program history to reach 1,000 career points at Sac State.

“It’s an honor to be recognized for what I do,” McKinney said. “Everything I do is for the team. I only score points because I want to win the game for my teammates.”

In 39 minutes on the floor, McKinney shot 13 of 21 from the field, made all five of his free throw attempts and reeled in seven rebounds—all defensive. He was, however, responsible for five of his team’s 13 turnovers.

Katz spoke on McKinney’s success at Sac State.

“I think that he and Dylan [Garrity] really changed our program,” Katz said. “He [McKinney] just needed an opportunity. I mean, everybody in the country would love to have him.”

Sophomore center Eric Stuteville also had a solid game, scoring 14 points in 25 minutes. Stuteville—the Hornets’ tallest player, listed at 6 feet, 11 inches—managed only two rebounds, but made four of five field goal attempts and six of eight free throw tries.

“I could have 30 [points] and not be happy because we lost,” Stuteville said. “It’s tough to say that it’s a good loss, because no loss is good. But we learned a lot of things from that game.”

Stuteville also said he has spent a lot of time working on improving his free throw shooting. He came into Sunday’s game shooting under 43 percent from the line.

The Portland Pilots had a strong offensive showing in the first half, shooting 16 of 25 (64 percent) compared to Sac State’s 12 of 25 (48 percent). But 12 Portland turnovers—including eight steals by the Hornets—helped Sac State keep the deficit to five points, as it was 44-39 at the half.

Katz said that “untimely turnovers” were the Hornets’ biggest weakness in Sunday’s game.

A flagrant foul by Garrity with 59 seconds left in first half proved to be a huge momentum shift—one Katz would describe as the turning point in the game. The foul allowed the Pilots to turn a two point lead into a six point lead in a single possession.

The Hornets trailed by double digits for much of the first half, and were down by as many as 12 points early on. But Sac State tightened up defensively in the second half, holding Portland to shoot 11 of 26 (42.3 percent) from the field.

Though the comeback attempt came up short, Katz had good things to say about his team’s efforts Sunday night.

“I don’t question our guys’ decisions, efforts or anything at that point,” Katz said. “Everything was pretty good but the outcome.”

The Nest—which can seat a maximum of 1,012 people—had few empty seats, as Sunday’s game started at 5:05 p.m., two hours earlier than most home games.

“It sucks to lose, but I know that the fans see how hard we’ve been working,” McKinney said. “And I believe a game like this will get more people to come out.”

Sunday night’s game marked the Hornets’ final home game of the non-conference portion of the season.

The team will hit the road for its final two pre-conference games. Sac State’s next game will tip off at 7:05 p.m. Dec. 21 at Seattle University.