How we got here: Sac State men’s basketball on four-game losing streak

Hornets aim to shake off stifling start to conference play


Jordan Latimore

Interim head coach Brandon Laird, standing on the sideline during a game against Portland State Saturday, Jan. 26th, 2022 at the Nest. The Hornets opened up to a 1-7 start on conference play and are currently on a four4-game losing streak.

Jordan Latimore

The Sac State men’s basketball team has opened this season to their worst first 15-game start since the 2017-2018 season, leading to some conjecture about where this team is headed.

The Hornets, who have a 5-10 overall record so far, currently hold the second to last spot in the Big Sky standings, with only one conference win for the season. 

What has been particularly complex about this team’s struggles, especially recently, is that the team is still performing at a high level and putting up numbers that might makeHornet fans expect different results. 

Over the course of their past three and a half week stretch, the Hornets have lost five out of six games, yet they still have players such as senior forward Bryce Fowler, the sixth-highest scorer in the Big Sky, and Jonathan Komagum, who is in the top 10 in blocked shots. The team has not lost a game by more than seven points.

“The frustrating thing for me is going into the locker room and telling the guys: hey, you played your butts off, your preparation was great this week, just knowing we still have to keep working to get over the hump,”  said head coach Brandon Laird. 

What seems to be the theme for Hornets this season is one attribute: consistency.

Sac State has been hit or miss offensively as a team this season, and a significant portion of the blame falls on their below .500 record. The Hornets rank 9th in field goal percentage and 7th in both three-point percentage and points per game in the Big Sky this season, signaling a clear point of emphasis: this team is mediocre at putting the ball in the basket.

Though players such as Fowler and junior guard Zach Chappell have stepped up their games on offense from an individual standpoint, scoring 61% of Sac State’s points over the past three games, the team collectively still has their woes to clean up.

Zach Chappell attempting to make an entry pass at practice Wednesday, Jan. 26th, 2022 at the Nest. Sac State opened up to a 1-7 start on conference play and is currently on a four4-game losing streak.
(Jordan Latimore)

“We have been having five-minute stretches where we just aren’t focused and we get sloppy on offense,” said Fowler. “If we can eliminate those stretches we are going to start winning some games and are going to be a tough team to beat. It’s definitely easier said than done though.”

On top of Sac State struggling to put the right strings together on offense, there tend to be small stretches where they let the small and undisciplined issues repeat themselves, digging the team a deeper hole to climb out of game-to-game.

“There have been some, self-inflicted wounds that we make during the course of the game,” said Laird. “Whether it’s a missed, free throw or some easy finishes around the rim, a missed block out here or there, [the team] just needs to maybe lock in a little bit harder in some of those areas.”

There have also been a lot of external factors for the Hornet program that has led to this point, leaving some unsurprised to see such a rough slide at this point in the year.

The Hornets’ head coach, Brian Katz left at the beginning of the season, and coupled with COVID-19 protocols forcing bizarre schedule changes, resulting in  key defensive rotation players like junior guard Deshaun Highler, freshman guard Teiano Hardee, and Jonathan Komagum being taken out of the lineup. It’s safe to say the Sac State program has had its fair share of adversity. 

“We had a stretch where we just didn’t play,” coach Laird said about Dec. 2021, when the Hornets were only able to play five games. “Then when we did start playing in January we played Southern Utah without John (Komagum) and Teo (Hardee), and then we came home and we’re without John, Deshaun (Highler) and Elijah McCullough.”

However, those within the team are not letting the outside issues take a toll and are hoping that these small dips in morale can be turned into big splashes of resolution.

“There’s a lot of character in that locker room and at the end of the day, I’m gonna bet on our character and our toughness and on our grittiness to really make us a good team at some point here in February,” said Laird “We’ve accumulated a lot of scars and those scars are , our battle wounds  that we’re gonna wear with pride.”

The Sac State men’s basketball team stretching and warming up at practice Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022 at the Nest. The Hornets are looking to end a a four-game losing streak against the Idaho State Bengals Thursday evening after the team opened up to a 1-7 start on conference play this season.
(Jordan Latimore)

With Sac State set to face off against the last place team in the Big Sky in Idaho State Thursday evening in the Nest, the Hornets are vying to get things back on track in the first of a four-game homestand.

“We knew that this stretch especially was going to be one of the toughest parts of our season,” said sophomore forward Cameron Wilbon. “But we keep our morale high with the mindset that as long as we’re playing our best basketball come February and March then we will be fine.”

Tip-off for the Hornets’ matchup against the Bengals is slated for 7 p.m on Thursday.