The future is now for Sac State men’s basketball


The mens basketball team huddles up before the game against Montana State in the Reno Events Center, Tuesday, Mar. 8.

Andrew Brown

With the 2015-16 season over, the Sacramento State men’s basketball team will now look at what the future holds for them.

Sac State’s season ended Thursday, March 10 with a 70-53 loss to the Montana Grizzlies in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky Conference tournament after beating the Montana State Bobcats 79-75 in the first round of the tournament on Tuesday, March 8.

The loss to the Grizzlies capped a tough, injury-riddled season for Sac State. The Hornets finished with a 14-17 overall record and a 6-12 Big Sky Conference record.

Sac State played without a starter for 11 straight games at one point during the season. Nine of those games were tied to senior guard Cody Demps, who missed five weeks of the season with a severe thigh injury.

Sac State head coach Brian Katz thought losing Demps for an extended period of time this season was a reason for the down year.

“Before he got hurt, we led the [Big Sky Conference] in assist-to-turnover ratio,” Katz said. “Once he got injured, we went straight to the bottom.”

Katz said earlier in the year that the assist-to-turnover ratio was a key stat to success.

On top of the injuries, Sac State rarely got off to fast starts. In an 11-game stretch in the conference part of the schedule, the Hornets had eight games where the team was down by eight or more points in the first half. Consequentially, in 18 of 29 games, the final outcome was decided by eight points or less.

Sac State looked good in the win against Montana State in the first round of the Big Sky tournament, causing a glimmer of hope for Hornets fans that the team could get an upset of the no. 2 seeded Montana Grizzlies in the quarterfinals. The Hornets were strong on the boards, finishing the game with a season-high 38 rebounds. The Hornets were also were strong defensively, forcing the Bobcats into tough shots.

However, the Hornets’ dream was stomped out by the Grizzlies and first team all-Big Sky Conference center Martin Breunig. Breunig had 24 points and 16 rebounds in the win.

Though the record doesn’t reflect it, there were some high points for Sac State this season. Demps said that his favorite moment of the season was the Hornets’ win against Pac-12 Conference’s Arizona State Sun Devils. The Hornets beat the Sun Devils 66-63 in Tempe, Arizona to open the season on Nov. 13.

Other high points included beating UC Davis 84-79 at the Nest on Nov. 24, beating Pacific 79-71 at the Nest on Nov. 29, and coming back from 20 down at halftime to beat Montana 83-79 at the Nest on Feb. 4. The Hornets also held their own against Stanford on Dec. 21, eventually losing 70-60.

Another bright spot for Sac State was the team’s home record. The Hornets finished with a 10-5 record at home and had 10 or more wins at home for the fourth consecutive season.

Though their season ended early, Demps and Barlett still look back at their time at Sac State fondly.

“My parents went here, so I have a deep connection,” Demps said. “I didn’t know what it would be like when I first got here, but I love it. I’ll always be a Sac State Hornet.”

Barlett said he has loved his time at Sac State and is happy with his decision to become a Hornet after growing up in Southern California.

“Coach Katz is a like a father to me,” Barlett said. “I loved the campus and everything the campus had to offer.”

Sophomore forward Justin Strings isn’t looking ahead to next season yet.

“We played this year for the seniors because of the amount of respect we have for them,” Strings said, after the Hornets loss to Montana in the quarterfinals. “Everyone on this team played tonight like it was their last game out of respect for what the seniors have meant to this program. I look up to [Demps] and [Barlett] as big brothers.”

Strings was Sac State’s leading scorer this season, averaging 15.3 points per game. In his freshman season, Strings averaged less than a point per game.

Next season, Sac State will have an experienced team. The Hornets will be returning four of five starters for the 2016-17 season. Demps and senior guard Dreon Barlett were the only seniors for the Hornets this season. Demps will be trying to head overseas to play basketball professionally, while Barlett will head to graduate school to earn a master’s degree in counseling.

The returning starters for Sac State next season are: sophomore guard Marcus Graves; sophomore forward Justin Strings; junior forward Nick Hornsby; and junior center Eric Stuteville. Freshman Jeff Wu, the first NCAA Division I athlete from Taiwan to receive an athletic scholarship, could step into the shooting guard role next season after he averaged nearly 19 minutes a game at the position this season. Graves, the former shooting guard, will take over the point guard position that was vacated by Demps’ departure. Graves got some experience this season at point guard while Demps was out injured.

Sac State will also get redshirt freshman guard Aaron Harmetz and forward Joshua Patton into action next season. They will go along with sophomore Jiday Ugbaja, junior Trevis Jackson, freshman Grant Dressler, sophomore Mason Stuteville, and sophomore James Herrick on the bench.