Hornets prepare for huge Big Sky quarterfinal matchup

Andrew Brown

The Sacramento State Hornets men’s basketball team will face a tough challenge when it takes on the Montana Grizzlies in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky Conference Tournament today.

Sac State finished as the number 10 seed after finishing the regular season with a 6-12 conference record and a 14-16 record overall. They advanced to the quarterfinals of the tournament after defeating the no. 7 Montana State Bobcats, 79-75, on Tuesday, March 8.

The Montana Grizzlies are the number two seed in the tournament, after finishing the Big Sky Conference regular season with a 14-4 record. The Grizzlies earned a bye for the first round of the tournament after finishing in the top four in the conference in the regular season. The Grizzlies were 19-10 overall this season.

Sac State and Montana faced each other twice this season, splitting the series. The Grizzlies defeated the Hornets in Missoula, Montana on Jan. 9, 77-58. The Hornets defeated the Grizzlies on Feb. 6 at the Nest, 83-79. Senior guard Cody Demps did not play in either game due to a quad injury.

Montana is led by senior forward Martin Breunig. Breunig is averaging 18.6 points per game and 9.1 rebounds per game this season. Breunig also has had a double-double in three of his last four games. The Grizzlies also get major contributions from junior guard Walter Wright (12.8 points per game), freshman guard Michael Oguine (11.6 points per game), and junior guard Brandon Gfeller (9.4 points per game).

Sac State is led by sophomore guard Justin Strings. Strings is averaging 15.6 points per game to go along with 6.8 rebounds per game. The Hornets also get big contributions from sophomore guard Marcus Graves (12.8 ppg) and Demps (12.3 ppg).

Montana’s “what to watch for:” The Grizzlies finished fourth in the Big Sky Conference in field goal percentage, at 46 percent and seventh in three-point shooting, at 36.6 percent. If they can hit their season mark for field goals and threes and keep Sac State under 70 points for the game, they should come out victorious.

Sac State’s “what to watch for:” The Hornets found a recipe for success against Montana back in February. The Hornets were down double digits most of the game, but their defense and three-point shooting helped guide them to a close win. If the Hornets can shoot above 40 percent from three and continue their aggressive defense, especially on the perimeter, they will have a shot to advance to the semifinals in the tournament.

Montana’s x-factor: Gfeller will play a huge factor for the Grizzlies to be successful. Gfeller shoots 39 percent from three and could get hot in a hurry if Sac State doesn’t lock him up on the wings. Senior guard Dreon Barlett and freshman guard Jeff Wu will likely be chosen to defend Gfeller.

Sac State’s x-factor: Although the starting five of Demps, Graves, Strings, junior forward Nick Hornsby, and junior center Eric Stuteville get a lot of the attention, Barlett can change momentum in an instant. Barlett is a career 41.3 percent three point shooter. He scored 16 points in the February win against Montana State, including going 3-4 from three.

Stay updated on the game by following @sh_sports and @thestatehornet on Twitter and heading to statehornet.com for recaps, reactions, and live tweets of the game. The game starts at 5:35 p.m. and will be played at the Reno Events Center in Reno, Nevada.

The winner of the game will go on to the semifinals on Friday and play the winner of the Eastern Washington Eagles and Idaho Vandals game, which starts right after the Sac State and Montana game finishes up. The semifinal game will be at 8:05 p.m. on Friday.

Every Big Sky Conference tournament game will be available to stream for free via watchbigsky.com, except for the championship game on Saturday. The championship game will instead be aired on ESPNU at 5:45 p.m.