The Sacramento State Hornets (11-14, 4-10 Big Sky) held on in a tight contest to defeat the Idaho University Vandals (17-11, 9-6 Big Sky) 68-65 at the Nest on Saturday.
Sophomore guard Justin Strings led the way for Sac State with 23 points and nine rebounds, while sophomore guard Marcus Graves chipped in seven assists for the Hornets.
Strings posed a matchup problem all night for Idaho, consistently playing on the wing or the post.
“I worked all offseason on my inside and outside game. I want to be a versatile player,” Strings said.
Junior forward Nick Hornsby didn’t stand out on the stat sheet (seven points, four assists, seven rebounds and three steals) but his tenacity and relentless motor showed through for Sac State Saturday night.
“My job is to bring energy and be a leader,” Hornsby said.
Strings agrees with that sentiment.
“[Hornsby] is one of our rocks,” Strings said.
Senior guard Cody Demps scored 18 points and senior guard Dreon Barlett scored 12 points for Sac State.
Sac State’s head coach Brian Katz believes his team is beginning to click just in time for the Big Sky conference tournament in Reno in March.
“The start of the season is right now,” Katz said.
Demps’ return has balanced out a thorn in the side of Sac State.
“Our turnover to assist ratio has been better with [Demps]. He moves the ball around really well, similar to hockey,” Katz said, referencing hockey assists, which give two players credit rather than the one associated with basketball.
Guard Perrion Callandret led the way for Idaho with 14 points. Arkadiy Mkrtychyan had eight rebounds, and Chris Sarbaugh had six assists for the Vandals.
Fouls were a big factor in the game as both teams combined for 51 fouls and 58 free throws.
Sac State also defeated Idaho on Jan. 28, 65-63. The Hornets had held a double digit lead in that game and the Vandals closed in, but couldn’t overcome the Hornets’ stingy defense.
The win kept Sac State in tenth in the Big Sky conference, while the loss dropped Idaho to fifth.
There was a moment of silence for former Sac State assistant coach Dwayne Canada before the game who died of cancer. Canada had been with the Hornets for six seasons before moving on to Seattle Pacific University.
Sac State will go on the road to face the University of Northern Colorado Bears (8-18, 5-9 Big Sky) in Greeley, Colorado at Bank of Colorado Arena on Feb. 25 at 6 p.m. Idaho will head home to Moscow, Idaho to face the Eastern Washington University Eagles at the Cowan Spectrum at 1:00 p.m. on Feb. 27. Both games will be available to stream for free via watchbigsky.com