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Hornets host Antelope Valley men’s basketball after 6-game losing streak

Sacramento+State+junior+guard+Jordan+Tolbert+dribbles+the+ball+down+the+court+in+a+64-47+loss+against+UC+Davis+Tuesday%2C+Nov.+21+at+the+Golden+1+Center.
Sacramento State junior guard Jordan Tolbert dribbles the ball down the court in a 64-47 loss against UC Davis Tuesday, Nov. 21 at the Golden 1 Center.

Sacramento State junior guard Jordan Tolbert dribbles the ball down the court in a 64-47 loss against UC Davis Tuesday, Nov. 21 at the Golden 1 Center.

Thomas Frey - The State Hornet

Thomas Frey - The State Hornet

Sacramento State junior guard Jordan Tolbert dribbles the ball down the court in a 64-47 loss against UC Davis Tuesday, Nov. 21 at the Golden 1 Center.

Angel Guerrero

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After a 70-54 loss to Saint Mary’s on Monday, the Sacramento State men’s basketball team concluded a brutal stretch of six straight games away from the Nest since Nov. 17.

The lack of a home-court advantage has shown, as the Hornets (1-7) have lost six consecutive contests, which is the program’s worst stretch since a nine-game losing streak in the middle of the 2011-12 season.

“I feel like our schedule was made to be hard, and I feel like it’ll help us at the end of the day,” Sac State junior guard Jordan Tolbert said. “We’ve got new players still trying to mix with the people that’s been here, so we’re still learning how to build that bond and chemistry on the court.”

Sac State’s losses in this period consist of games against the University of San Francisco (69-56), UC Davis (64-47), San Diego State (89-52), Cal State Fullerton (68-63), Saint Joseph’s (74-69) and Saint Mary’s. These six opposing programs combine for a 31-16 overall record this season.

“We knew what we were entering into,” Sac State coach Brian Katz said, referring to the caliber of opponents during this stretch. “The big thing that you tell your guys is, ‘OK, you’re (1-7). Are you better from being (1-7) by having played the schedule?’

“The answer would be yes, we’re a better team because of it.”

However, the Hornets — which have one win on the season against Division II Notre Dame de Namur University — will need to improve on their ball-handling and decision-making if they hope to compete against opposing teams. Sac State is averaging 15.9 turnovers a game, including 22 against UC Davis and San Diego State.

Senior forward Justin Strings — who leads the team with 16.6 points and 7.4 rebounds per game — attributes this to a lack of time spent in the practice gym during multiple road trips. These trips will reduce, as the Hornets will play five of their next six games in Sacramento during the month of December.

“I think playing so many games in concession like that will take away the aspect you get from practicing,” Strings said after averaging 3.1 turnovers per contest. “When you practice, you work on taking care of the ball and working on the little nuances of our offense, and I think when you play careless with the ball, (it leads) to turnovers. So, I think this practice time will help us combat those turnovers and limit them.”

Thomas Frey – The State Hornet
Sacramento State senior forward Justin Strings shoots the ball over UC Davis junior forward Garrison Goode Tuesday, Nov. 21 at the Golden 1 Center. Strings posted 17 points, 12 rebounds and 10 turnovers in a 64-47 loss against the Aggies.

An important area where turnovers have hurt Sac State is in the points-per-game category. Last season, the Hornets posted 71.1 points per contest with an 11.6 turnover average, but that margin has dipped to 59.5 due to the mistakes handling the ball. These blunders were particularly costly against Cal State Fullerton (12) and Saint Joseph’s (17), as Sac State lost both games by only five points each.

“We’ve played some games and struggled in some,” Strings said. “But in other games, I felt like we had opportunities to win, (and) so we’re not completely, mentally, checked out yet. We’re still chugging away at it and understanding the situation.”

Despite the initial win-loss record, Sac State has found a slight improvement in its points allowed per game average, which has decreased from 74.3 last season to 69.9. The Hornets were also able to hold Saint Mary’s, which began the year ranked No. 22 in the Associated Press Top 25, to a season low of 70 points.

“I think we can build on our defense,” Strings said before Monday’s loss against the Gaels. “I know we haven’t been winning a whole lot of games, but I know our defense is doing pretty well in those games that we have lost. (So we need more) improving on offense, just scoring the ball more and just playing through each other more.”

Sac State will get this chance, as the team returns home for the first time in 22 days against Antelope Valley at 7:35 p.m. Wednesday — which will also act as a doubleheader, as the women’s basketball team plays the Pioneers right before — at the Nest.

“The one thing you want to try and do, always, is make sure you win your home games and play well,” Strings said, referring to the Hornets’ 53-19 record at home during the past five seasons. “For us, I think it’ll be good, after a long stretch of road games, to get back in the Nest and have the home fans behind us.”

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