Entering the Big Sky Conference Tournament as the No. 3 seed after back-to-back road losses, Sacramento State men’s basketball took care of No. 6 seed Portland State in the quarterfinal round, winning by a final of 70-60 this afternoon in Missoula, Montana.
Senior guards Mikh McKinney and Dylan Garrity were the difference-makers in the win, scoring a combined 46 points.
The contest was a tight one throughout, with neither team taking a double-digit lead until the final shot of the game—a free throw by McKinney—fell through the hoop.
The Hornets had the better shooting day, as Sac State shot 26 of 51 (51.0 percent) from the field while Portland State went 22 of 61 (36.1 percent) from the floor. The Vikings kept the contest close as they won the turnover battle, committing nine to the Hornets’ 11, as well as the rebound battle by a 38-34 margin.
“My first reaction is, it’s great to be sitting here,” said Sac State coach Brian Katz in a postgame press conference alongside Garrity and McKinney. “A year ago, we were sitting here crying our eyes out, all three of us. [We] lost in a close one, and we just—our commitment was to come back here and do something.”
The Hornets entered the game having swept the Vikings 2-0 during the regular season. Sac State’s 73-60 win at Portland State on Feb. 28 marked the team’s final regular-season victory before dropping its next two games at Southern Utah University and Northern Arizona University the following week, eliminating the Hornets from contention for the No. 1 seed in the tournament.
“Obviously we wanted to finish out winning and placing first, but that didn’t happen,” McKinney said in the press conference. “But you’ve got to learn to lose before you can win. And I think that ending out with those two losses, actually, on the road, that woke us up a little bit.”
Garrity played a huge role in the victory. The guard scored 22 points and had an efficient game, shooting 10-of-14 from the field, going two-for-six from long distance. He pulled in six rebounds—all on defense—and played 36 minutes.
McKinney, who was announced as the Big Sky Conference’s Most Valuable Player in the 2014-15 regular season, was also a key factor in the win. He scored 24 points, making eight of 17 shots from the field.
Junior guard Cody Demps helped round out the Hornets, especially in the second half. Demps scored 13 points—all in the second half—and reeled in nine rebounds.
The junior went a perfect seven-for-seven from the free-throw line. He also had a team-high five assists and played 33 minutes.
Sac State trailed 31-27 at the half. McKinney, Garrity, sophomore forward Nick Hornsby and senior forward Alex Tiffin were the only four Hornets to score in the first period. With Demps heating up in the second half, the Hornets were able to drop 43 points on the Vikings in the latter period.
The Hornets survived a 26-point effort from Portland State guard Gary Winston.
“I mean, Winston’s a good player, he’s pretty tough to guard,” Garrity said in the press conference. “But we, as a group, just said we weren’t going to let him get any more easy buckets.”
With the victory, the Hornets will move on to face the No. 2 seed Eastern Washington University Eagles on Friday night. The Eagles defeated the University of Idaho Vandals 91-83 in today’s first contest.
Before this season, the Hornets hadn’t made it to the semifinal game since 2006, when the team was eliminated by Northern Arizona University one game short of the championship round.
Sac State and Eastern Washington split the regular-season series 1-1, with each team defending its home court.
“We’ve got our hands full, obviously,” Katz said in the press conference. “They’re awful good. And third time, there’s no secrets for anybody—us or them. So we expect [it] to be a battle. We have great respect for them. We know what they bring, they know what we bring and I expect a real good game.”
The Hornets and Eagles will tip off at 4:30 p.m. PDT on Friday in Missoula for the semifinal round.