McKinney leads men’s basketball in 79-76 comeback win over Idaho

Mike McGough

Sacramento State’s men’s basketball team earned its fourth Big Sky win of the season in comeback fashion Thursday night, as a monstrous second half from senior guard Mikh McKinney propelled the Hornets past the Idaho Vandals by a final score of 79-76.

McKinney ended the night with 32 points on 12-of-19 shooting from the floor. In the second half alone, he scored 27 points on 10-of-14 shooting, including a perfect five-for-five half from behind the 3-point line.

Sac State trailed by as many as 11 points in the first half before mounting a second half comeback.

“We stuck with the game plan, and everyone came out in the second half with energy,” McKinney said. “I don’t think I did anything differently, I just took the shots that were there for me. I had to lead my team, and that’s all I did.”

McKinney played 39 minutes, also tallying three defensive rebounds and a game-high five assists.

The Hornets improved to 4-1 in the Big Sky Conference and 10-6 overall with the win.

Sac State coach Brian Katz attributed his team’s success through the first five games of the Big Sky season to senior leadership on the team—particularly, the chemistry between McKinney and senior guard Dylan Garrity.

“I think they’re starting to get that mental telepathy or something going on where they know where each other are,” Katz said.

The Hornets made 28 of 61 (45.9 percent) field goal attempts for the game. They struggled from the free-throw line, where they shot just 15 of 26 (57.7 percent).

Idaho had a better shooting night, making 28 of 56 (50 percent) field goal attempts, but the Vandals also turned the ball over 17 times. Sac State committed 10 turnovers, but only two of them came in the second half.

The Hornets went into halftime down 41-33 and trailed Idaho by eight points with 8:41 left in the game. With 7:13 on the clock, Garrity hit a huge 3-pointer to trim the deficit to two points and set up a back-and-forth battle in the game’s final minutes.

Junior guard Cody Demps played a huge role in the Hornets’ win Thursday night. Demps scored 17 points, shooting six-of-eight from the floor in 36 minutes played. He also pulled in five rebounds and had four assists on the night.

Demps proved to be instrumental in the final few minutes of the victory. With 24 seconds remaining in the game and the Hornets leading 77-76, a foul on Demps sent the guard to the line to shoot two critical free throws.

Neither foul shot fell through the net for Demps, keeping Sac State’s lead at a single point and giving Idaho a chance to win the game on its final possession.

With seven seconds on the clock, a deep 3-point attempt by Idaho guard Connor Hill missed its mark, bouncing wide right off the rim.

Demps jumped high to retrieve the defensive rebound and was immediately fouled. He went back to the line, where he redeemed himself with two good free throws to seal a 79-76 victory for the Hornets.

The junior explained his strategy for maintaining mental focus during free-throw attempts.

“Whenever I go to the free-throw line, I try to just imagine myself back at home,” Demps said. “Back on the home court, back when I was young shooting free throws—I just try to bring myself back to that moment.”

Thursday night’s win marked the first time the Hornets have ever defended their home court with a win against Idaho. Coming into the game, the Vandals were 14-1 all-time against Sac State, with the sole loss coming at Idaho.

The 2014-15 season marks Idaho’s return to the Big Sky Conference. The team departed from the conference in 1996, and became the Big Sky’s 12th team this season with the return.

Sac State’s hard-fought victory over Idaho gave Katz and his players a firsthand look at the Vandals’ talent level.

“Getting ready for them was somewhat of a nightmare because we hadn’t seen them in five years,” Katz said.

Two of Idaho’s players had big scoring efforts that were overshadowed by McKinney and Sac State’s victory. Hill and Sekou Wiggs scored 20 and 22 points for the Vandals, respectively. Hill also made five of 10 attempted 3-pointers.

“They’re going to be a good team in our conference for sure,” Demps said. “I already know, just by this game. It’ll be a good little rivalry going on, because they’re definitely a talented group.”

Thursday night’s victory helped set up a premier matchup for Sac State’s next game. The Hornets will host Eastern Washington—the Big Sky’s leading team at 13-4 overall and 4-0 in conference play—at 7:05 p.m. Saturday night in the Nest.

“Eastern Washington is undefeated [in conference] and they’re the team to beat in the league,” Katz said. “So it’s on, baby. It is on.”