Men’s basketball loses first place position with 64-61 loss to Eastern Washington

Mike McGough

Sacramento State’s men’s basketball team had its seven-game win streak snapped Thursday with a 64-61 road loss to Eastern Washington University.

With the defeat, the Hornets fell to 10-2 in Big Sky Conference play this season. The win for Eastern Washington allowed the Eagles to leapfrog Sac State in the Big Sky standings and take back control of first place with a conference record of 10-1.

Sac State coach Brian Katz gave credit to his opponent in Thursday night’s game.

“I thought they had a great game plan and really took some things away,” Katz said. “They were in control of the game the whole night. Really, it was their game to win or lose.”

The Eagles set the tone early, making six of their first 10 attempted 3-pointers. Eastern Washington finished the game shooting 12 of 23 (52.2 percent) from behind the arc and 22 of 46 (47.8 percent) total from the field.

Sac State made 22 of 54 (40.7 percent) attempted field goals and eight of 18 (44.4 percent) from long distance.

The Hornets nearly pulled off an improbable comeback in a game in which they trailed by as many as 16 points.

After taking a 31-24 deficit into halftime, the Hornets managed a 7-0 run starting at the 19:50 mark of the second half to tighten the game up at 33-31 Eastern Washington.

By the 7:01 mark, the Eagles had built a 58-42 lead. At that point, the Hornets began to play more aggressive defense including full-court press, which forced a scoring drought by the Eagles.

Sac State battled all the way back to within a single point, as senior guard Mikh McKinney scored 11 points in the final 6:30 of play.

A McKinney free throw brought the score to 62-61 Eastern Washington, but with just three seconds left on the clock, the Hornets were forced to foul. Eagles point guard Drew Brandon drew the foul and went on to make both free throws.

The Hornets were unable to inbound the ball for a final shot, securing a 64-61 win for Eastern Washington.

“We just made a valiant effort at the end,” Katz said. “I’m really proud of how hard our guys played down the stretch to give us a chance to win the game. But, you know, in truth they outplayed us for a solid 35 minutes, so they were the better team tonight for sure.”

McKinney had the biggest scoring night for the Hornets, making six of 14 field goal attempts on his way to scoring 21 points. The senior also led his team with four assists and played a team-high 39 minutes.

“Mikh had 21 and all that, but they kept him from penetrating,” Katz said. “They did a really good job.”

Junior guard Cody Demps, who scored a career-high 22 points in Sac State’s home win over Eastern Washington on Jan. 17, made just one field goal in Thursday night’s game. Demps scored six points, but led both teams with 10 rebounds and played aggressive defense, stealing the ball four times. He spent 34 minutes on the floor.

The game marked the third game this season in which the Hornets have played with first place on the line. Sac State won the first two such games at home against Eastern Washington and University of Montana.

As of Thursday’s loss, the Hornets are in second place in the Big Sky for the first time since before their Jan. 17 victory over Eastern Washington.

Katz said his team, who have six games left to try to regain first place, will not dwell on Thursday night’s loss.

“We’re not going to carry this with us,” Katz said. “We’ve got too many games to play. Everybody wants to, you know, fixate on one game. But I told our guys, ‘They’re all championship games. Every one of them.’”

Sac State will wrap up its two-game road trip at 7:05 p.m. Saturday, tipping off against the University of Idaho Vandals.