Men’s basketball earns 3-0 Big Sky start with 63-61 win over North Dakota

Mike McGough

Sacramento State’s men’s basketball team remained undefeated (3-0) in Big Sky Conference play with a Thursday night road win over North Dakota by a final of 63-61.

The game was a tight one, coming down to the final possession. Senior guard Mikh McKinney hit a game-winning 2-point jumper with just under three seconds to play to secure the victory for the Hornets.

The final 22 seconds went just as planned, according to Sac State coach Brian Katz.

“We’re going to put the ball in his hands and see what happens,” Katz said of McKinney. “Just get a chance to win.”

Katz also felt that the team persevered through some struggles in Thursday night’s game.

“We didn’t play great, but we just were very determined,” Katz said. “We kind of won a grind-it-out, down-to-the-wire kind of a game. But you’ve got to be able to win these kinds of games. You’re not going to go out every night and shoot the way we did [last week].”

The Hornets’ 63 points marked the team’s lowest scoring effort in a victory this season.

The win put Sac State at 9-5 overall and 3-0 in the Big Sky this season—good enough for first place in the conference.

By record—overall and conference—it is the best start the Hornets have had to a season since the 2005-06 campaign. It is also Sac State’s best start under Katz.

“These wins in conference are like gold,” Katz said. “They’re big games. Especially road wins. I mean, my God, they’re so critical.”

Sac State is currently riding a winning streak of four games.

Senior forward Zach Mills came in off the bench to produce his best game of the season, shooting seven-of-nine from the floor and scoring 17 points. Mills made three of his four attempted 3-pointers, grabbed five defensive rebounds and had three steals in 35 minutes of play.

“Give him credit,” Katz said of Mills. “He had a streak last year when he was very, very good, and we’re hoping he’s going to be consistent now.”

McKinney had a relatively rough game compared to his usual standards. Averaging 17.4 points per game entering play, he shot four of 11 from the field and scored 13 points Thursday night.

Before hitting the game-winner, McKinney missed all three of his attempted 3-pointers and turned the ball over four times. He had a team-high five assists in a team-high 39 minutes played.

After a Saturday night home victory in which the Hornets turned the ball over just three times, Sac State struggled with ball control Thursday night. The team committed 13 turnovers—three of them in the first three minutes of play.

Sac State got off to a slow start on offense. The team trailed 10-2 at the 12:24 mark in the first half before mounting an 8-2 run to start a comeback. By halftime, the Hornets were up 34-30.

The second half became a back-and-forth affair, with five ties and five lead changes occurring in the final 9:30. After McKinney made his jumper in the Hornets’ last possession, a failed half-court attempt by North Dakota’s Terrel De Rouen sealed the win for Sac State.

Thursday night’s triumph marked the 2014-15 squad’s third road victory of the season. The Hornets have already matched their road win total from a season ago, when the team went 3-12 in away games.

“Any road win is just a phenomenal win,” Katz said. “I’m hoping it’s kind of a little bit of a defining moment for our guys.”

The Hornets will make their way back west for a 6 p.m. Saturday game at Northern Colorado as Sac State hopes to stay in first place and earn a 4-0 start to the Big Sky season.