Men’s basketball ends season with loss to Montana

Andrew Brown

The Sacramento State Hornets men’s basketball season came to an abrupt end Thursday night, after the Hornets lost the Big Sky Conference Tournament quarterfinal matchup against the second seeded Montana Grizzlies, 70-53, in Reno, Nevada.

The game, which was held at the Reno Events Center, was never in doubt after five minutes had passed in the first half. Montana had leads as big as 19 throughout the game and only trailed Sac State early in the first half.

Montana center Martin Breunig dominated the entire game, and Sac State could not find an answer to stop him. Breunig finished with 24 points and 16 rebounds to go along with two assists and three steals.

Breunig didn’t reflect much on his own game individually after the game but rather on the team as a whole.

“We were active on defense,” Breunig said. “We were active with our hands and kept our bodies moving.”

Montana guard Walter Wright mirrored Breunig’s synopsis of the win.

“We wanted to be the aggressors,” Wright said.

Wright finished with 12 points and six assists on the night.

Sac State head coach Brian Katz said Montana executed its game plan extremely well.

“They did a great job getting [Breunig] the ball,” Katz said. “We lost to a really good team tonight.”

Montana head coach Travis DeCuire said his team’s game plan was the difference.

“We worked hard on establishing the paint,” DeCuire said. “We set a defensive tone. We held them under 40 percent shooting. Our defense was incredible.”

Sac State senior guard Cody Demps felt the offensive struggles for the Hornets were key to Montana’s win.

“[Montana] did a really good job jamming the box,” Demps said, referencing the Hornets lack of penetration.

Sac State sophomore guard Justin Strings led the Hornets with 14 points. Freshman guard Jeff Wu finished with 11 points, and junior power forward Nick Hornsby added six rebounds. Montana got a big contribution from guard Mario Dunn, who finished with 10 points and four rebounds.

Montana went into the locker rooms at half time up 15. The large lead was reminiscent of the last time the two teams played in Sacramento, on Feb. 6. Sac State came back to win that game after being down 20 at halftime.

DeCuire was asked if he reminded his players about that game when the Hornets closed the gap to 11.

“I didn’t. I told them to remember to believe,” DeCuire said.

Montana put the game out of reach in the second half with good passing and hot shooting. The Grizzlies doubled up Sac State with 14 assists compared to the Hornets’ seven. The Grizzlies finished the game shooting 47.1 percent shooting from the field. The Hornets finished shooting 35.8 percent from the field.

Montana also dominated on the boards, out-rebounding Sac State, 40-26.

Sac State will be returning four of five starters next year with only Demps and senior guard Dreon Barlett departing. When asked if he’s excited for next season’s team, Strings said he had not thought about it yet.

“Out of respect to the seniors, I haven’t. I played every game as if it was my last,” Strings said. “I don’t think anyone played thinking they had more seasons left this year. [Demps] and [Barlett] are like my big brothers.”

With the win, Montana moves on to the semifinals to play the winner of Thursday’s final quarterfinal matchup between Eastern Washington and Idaho on Friday at the Reno Events Center at 8:05 p.m.

Both semifinal games on Friday will be available to stream for free via The Big Sky Conference tournament championship game will be on Saturday at 5:45 p.m. The game will be aired live on ESPNU.