Sac State men’s basketball suffers heartbreaking 68-66 loss to Montana State

Hornets fall to 0-2 in Big Sky after missed game-winner


Dylan McNeill

Sacramento State men’s basketball senior forward Bryce Fowler (23) attempts a free throw against the Montana State defense on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, at the Hornets Nest. The Hornets suffered a heartbreaking 68-66 loss to the Bobcats after Fowler missed a potentially game-winning three at the buzzer.

Jordan Latimore

After losing its second straight Big Sky matchup 68-66 to Montana State on Saturday at the Hornets Nest , it’s become clear that preventing early deficits needs to be an emphasis for the Sacramento State men’s basketball team.

“We just gotta stop shooting ourselves in the foot to start games,” said head coach Brandon Laird. 

The Hornets (3-5, 0-2 Big Sky) came into their matchup with the Bobcats (5-5, 1-1 Big Sky) looking to clinch their first conference win of the year after a brutal loss to the University of Montana in their previous game.

For Sac State, opening games has been a constant struggle and the team is now placed ninth  in the Big Sky standings, and Saturday evening proved to be no different. Right out of the gate, Montana State got in front with a 7-4 start before the first media timeout.

The Bobcats beat Sac State in every facet offensively in the first few minutes. They fed their dominant junior forward in Jubrile Belo who finished with 18 points and kicked out to shooters when Sac State started doubling him, making a recipe for disaster for the Hornet defense to deal with.

“We did a good job doubling big fella, but we did not do a good job rotating back out to the shooters,” Laird said. “[Montana State] is big, they’re strong, they’re disciplined, [they] can beat you inside and beat you outside.”

At the 13-minute mark, Sac State faced a nine-point deficit until lighting came in a bottle with their offense. Just as the Hornets once again found themselves trailing early, they simultaneously found some momentum and synergy to play off of.

Through the gritty play of senior forward Bryce Fowler and junior guard Deshaun Highler and their ability to exploit opportunities in the paint, the Hornets clawed their way back to cut the lead to four points with a score of 21-17 with under 10 minutes remaining in the half.

“I love my role, I make any sacrifice,” said Highler, who finished with six first-half points. “If you need me to guard the best player, I could go do that. You need me to shoot zero times, I’ll do that. Do you want me to score a ball? I can go do that too.”

However, just as it seemed the Hornets were riding back into town with a run, the Bobcats came charging back with their own offensive splurge. Montana State closed the second half on a 20-10 run that was fueled by an utter three point barrage, giving the Hornets a 41-27 hole going into the break.

Despite the mess that was the first half for Sac State, the team’s effort never wavered going into the second period. In valiant fashion behind fifth year go-to wing  Fowler, the Hornets fought tooth and nail to give themselves a chance to not start the season off 0-2 in the Big Sky.

Fowler put his full arsenal on display against the Bobcats scoring with fadeaway jumpers, getting out on fastbreaks to finish strong in transition and getting to the free-throw line. 

After being down 14 points going into halftime and no less than eight for a majority of the second half, the Hornets trailed the Bobcats by just five points with one minute remaining with a score of 65-60.

Through fouling to stop the clock and back-to-back made jumpers and a layup from Fowler, the Hornets were down 66-67 with under nine seconds remaining.

Sac State then fouled Belo who went one of two from the free-throw line to make the score 68-66 with 4.7 seconds remaining. Out of timeouts, the Hornets had to advance to the ball full court and get off a shot quickly, and Fowler did just that. 

Senior guard William FitzPatrick inbounded the ball to Fowler who attacked the floor and whipped past the Montana State press. He was able to get all the way to the Hornet three-point line for a potentially game-winning attempt.

Fowler raised up and let it fly as a packed Nest of fans all gasped watching the ball hit the approach to the rim with the red glow of clock lights beaming on the backboard and the buzzer sounding off. The shot barely rimmed out and missed.


Despite getting the shot off in remarkable time and finishing with a team-high 32 points, Fowler needed 35 to prevent the Hornets from being winless in the conference so far this season. 

Regardless of Saturday’s outcome and not so optimal start to Big Sky play, the Hornets still feel that their grit through these first in-conference losses has given them an edge to keep building on.

“I thought it was in and it was on-line, it just came up a little short,” Fowler said. “I think we proved to ourselves that even with a bad first half, we could still beat two of the top five or six teams in the conference.”

The Hornets next game will be Saturday, Dec. 11 at 4 p.m. on the road to take on Oregon State in Sac State’s third PAC-12 matchup of the season.