Hornets head to Reno with eyes on Big Sky title

Andrew Brown

The Sacramento State Hornets men’s basketball team is headed to Reno, Nevada to take on the Montana State University Bobcats at the Reno Events Center, Tuesday at 5:35 p.m. in the first round of the Big Sky Conference tournament.

Sac State finished the regular season with back to back wins against the Southern Utah University Thunderbirds, 69-63 in overtime, last Thursday, March 3 and the Northern Arizona University Lumberjacks, 64-51, last Saturday, March 5.

Montana State finished the season with back to back wins as well, beating the University of Northern Colorado Bears, 81-63, last Thursday, and the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks, 89-82, last Saturday.

Sac State and Montana State have played against each other twice this season. Montana State won both games: 71-64 at their home court on Jan. 7 and 79-76 Feb. 6 on the road at the Nest.

Sac State is led by senior guard Cody Demps. Demps missed five weeks earlier this season, but he has a major impact on the team according to Hornets head coach Brian Katz.

“Our turnover to assist ratio is completely different when [Demps] is in the game,” Katz said. “He moves the ball around really well.”

Demps has averaged 12.4 points per game and 4.7 assists per game this season.

Montana State is led by freshman guard Tyler Hall and his 19.1 points per game. Hall has played 13 games this season with 20 plus points and two 30 point games.

Montana State has been extremely successful cleaning up the glass this season, finishing third in the Big Sky conference with 37.3 rebounds per game. Sac State finished in fifth with 36 rebounds per game. The Bobcats were the best team in the conference getting offensive rebounding finishing, with 12.8 offensive rebounds per game. The Hornets finished in fifth again, at 9.9 offensive rebounds per game.

“They send five [players] to the boards. It’s like a fire drill,” Coach Katz said, referencing Montana State’s rebound skill.

Sac State’s x-factor: Junior center Eric Stuteville will play a huge role in determining whether or not the Hornets can win this game. Stuteville finished the season strong, seemingly finding a groove on the rebounds and getting blocks. If he can contribute offensively on top of the rebounds and blocks, Montana State is in trouble.

Montana State’s x-factor: Senior guard Marcus Colbert. Colbert scores on the regular, averaging 16.5 points per game, but it’s his ball handling that can really make a difference. Colbert averages 5.2 assists per game. The Bobcat offense runs through Colbert.

Sac State’s “What to Watch For:” Offensive production in the first half of games has been a struggle for the Hornets over the last two months. Rarely have they been able to come back from their first half deficits. If the Hornets can start fast, they will be able to win this game.

Montana State’s “What to Watch For:” As mentioned above, the Bobcats are the best offensive rebounding team in the Big Sky Conference. With Sac State drawing up game plans to try and stop Hall and Colbert, the Bobcats will need to depend on other players for scoring. Offensive rebounds and the second or more chances that come with those can be a make or break factor for the Bobcats.

Sac State’s projected starting lineup: 0 Marcus Graves, G, 2 Cody Demps, G, 3 Justin Strings, G/F, 33 Nick Hornsby, F, and 44 Eric Stuteville, C.

Montana State’s projected starting lineup: 3 Tyler Hall, G, 22 Colbert, G, 00 Zach Green, G, 34 Danny Robison, F, and 25 Shikei Blake C.3

“I like where we are. We’re very competitive. The players don’t give in. Any adversity doesn’t bother them,” Katz said.

The winner of Tuesday’s game will go on to face the University of Montana Grizzlies in the quarterfinals, Thursday at 5:35 p.m. at the Reno Events Center. The winner of the tournament receives an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament later on in March.

Last season, Sac State won their first postseason game in school history when they beat the University of Portland Pilots, 73-66, in the first round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament (CIT). They lost in the second round to Northern Arizona, 78-73.

This is the first season the Big Sky Conference men’s and women’s tournaments will include all of the teams. This is also the first season the tournaments will be held at a neutral site.

“It will be a basketball extravaganza,” Katz said of the tournament.

Tickets to the games can be purchased at bigskyconf.com. The Big Sky Conference tournament games will be available to stream for free via watchbigsky.com. The championship game on Saturday, March 12 will be aired live on ESPNU at 5:45 p.m.

The State Hornet will have live coverage from Reno starting Tuesday. Follow @thestatehornet and @sh_sports on Twitter, and go to statehornet.com for complete Sac State Big Sky Tournament coverage including recaps, reaction, and live-tweeting of all the action.