Sac State men’s basketball closes out thrilling 57-54 win against Idaho

Hornets hold off wild finish in first round of the Big Sky Tourney

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Jordan Latimore

Senior forward Bryce Fowler goes for a layup against University of Idaho Wednesday, March 9, 2022 at Idaho Central Arena. Fowler finished with 26 points in the Hornets’ 57-54 in the first round of the 2022 Big Sky men’s basketball tournament.

Jordan Latimore

Coming into  Boise, Idaho for the first round of the Big Sky tournament after winning four of their last five games, interim head coach Brandon Laird always assured his team would be playing their best in March.

Well, it’s March.

In a gutsy down-to-the-wire 57-54 win in Idaho Central Arena Wednesday against the University of Idaho, the Sacramento State men’s basketball team is proving that point to be true.

“It’s less about the results on the court and more about the results in the locker room,” Laird said. “The guys have just, they’ve been tremendous.”

The Hornets (11-17, 6-14 Big Sky) were right off to the races to begin this early-morning matchup against the Vandals (9-22, 6-14 Big Sky) opening the game extremely assertively on the offensive end. 

Though their efficiency wasn’t the greatest to start off things, going 2 for 7 in the first four minutes, the Hornets made it clear that they were going to set the tone offensively and it eventually started paying off.

Just when you thought Idaho was going to start to distance themselves after earning an early 8-5 lead, Sac State erupted on a 12-3 run at the 14-minute mark. Senior forward Bryce Fowler absolutely torched the Vandals all morning and was the main catalyst for the run as he was able to score in almost every facet imaginable.

 

“Last game we had success with me kind of playing the post, using my size. I’m just trying to lean on that,” Fowler said. “[I was] just kind of playing how I normally play. I don’t think I ever run into anything different, just kind of playing my game and then just kind of taking what they give.”

Sac State leaned on the offensive cushion from Fowler to open up the floor for others to make plays.

Largely off the defensive attention, Fowler drew, his teammate’s junior guard Zach Chappell and sophomore forward Cameron Wilbon stepped up in the first half to make big shots.

Chappell and Wilbon’s combined 11 points helped the Hornets go on a 12-0 run and secure a comfortable 31-22 lead going into the halftime break.

All the Hornets had to do in the second half was continue their pace and keep on the success converting tough shots and they probably would have finished with a seismic win.

Wilbon carried the Hornets in some stretches of the second half, finishing with 11 second-half points and 18 total on the night.

“I’m a great finisher, when Bryce’s posting up and the guys are doubling, I’m great at doing things like that,” Wilbon said. “I can space the floor as well and I just feel like I had a great game in there.”

Sophomore forward Cameron Wilbon drives to the basket against University of Idaho Wednesday, March 9, 2022, at Idaho Central Arena. Wilbon finished with 18 points in the Hornets’ first-round 57-54 victory over the Vandals. (Jordan Lattimore)

It looked like Sac State was on its way to a cruising morning victory in Boise.

Yet again, it’s March.

Idaho knew they had to fight tooth and claw to give themselves any chance, and they definitely gave it a shot.

Despite Sac State continuing to knock down shots, the Vandals seemed to never truly go away. They stuck around doing the dirty work on the offensive glass and diving for loose balls, eventually cutting the lead to 10 points at 50-30 with under four minutes remaining.

Sac State started looking fatigued down the stretch and didn’t seem like they could muster enough energy to convert on the offensive end, leaving a window wide open for Idaho to crash the party.

Near the two-minute mark, Idaho went on a 7-0 run to cut the lead to just three points at a score of 52-49 –  just a three-point.

All of a sudden, the Hornets were facing a close matchup with just under two minutes to go. After Wilbon scored a nice mid-range jumper and Fowler made a free-throw on back-to-back possessions, the Hornets found themselves up to four with 26 seconds to play.

Again, the worst that could have gone wrong went wrong. Freshman Idaho guard Yusef Salih took a three from the left-wing on the next play.

Splash.

One point game.

Fouled on the next possession, Fowler just needed to make two free throws to seal the game with only 5.9 seconds remaining. Despite the loud mixture of cheers and boos coming from the  Idaho crowd at Idaho Central Arena, Fowler knocked them both down.

With no timeouts and little time, the Vandals could barely even get a shot off.

 

Behind Fowler’s team-high 26 points, the Hornets will live to see another day in the Big Sky Tournament.

“This is not a disrespect to anybody, but in my opinion, he’s the best player in the conference,” Laird said. “There’s no secret at this point to anybody else, we’re gonna play through Bryce.”

The Hornets will play Montana State in the second round Thursday at 12 p.m PST in Idaho Central Arena in Boise, Idaho.