Sac State men’s basketball second-half storm overwhelms Denver

Hornets win second straight game after defeating the Pioneers


The Daily Bruin/Jack Stenzel

[FILE]: Junior guard Austin Patterson guarding UCLA senior guard Jaime Jaiquez Jr. against UCLA Monday, Nov. 8, 2022, at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles, California. The Hornets snuck out of Magness Arena in Denver, Colorado with a 73-69 win over the Denver Pioneers Monday night.

Jack Freeman

The Sacramento State Hornets men’s basketball team snuck out of Magness Arena in Denver, Colorado with a 73-69 win over the University of Denver Pioneers.

With this victory, Sac State moves to 2-1 on the year, a strong start for new head coach David Patrick. The Hornets start undefeated against mid-major teams, which will be the bulk of their competition this season.

“[It’s] extremely important,” junior forward Cameron Wilbon said about the team’s start. “Because after this home game, we have one neutral site against UC Davis at Golden 1 [Center] and then we are right back on the road.” 

The Hornets and Pioneers went shot for shot to open the first half, with neither team being able to extend their lead past four points. 

Sac State came into this game with a plan, use senior center Callum McRae’s size to win down-low and find shooters.  However, the Hornets could not get the three ball going in the first half, shooting just 2-7.

The Hornets leaned on McRae, who had 12 of the Hornets’ 33 points in the first half. Despite this, Sac State only played with the lead for 55 seconds in the half. 

“Denver is a very well-coached and tough team who won’t be easy out here at their home court,” Patrick said.

Points off turnovers made the difference at the end of the half. The Pioneers turned six turnovers into nine points, while the Hornets could only get six points off seven turnovers.

Down three points at the half, the Hornets started the second half as they did the first, playing from behind and trying to even everything up. Both teams traded buckets for the first five minutes, with neither team gaining more than a five-point advantage.

A driving dunk from Denver graduate student center Lukas Kisunas opened the floodgates for the Pioneer offense. 

Over a one-minute span, the Hornets allowed a quick eight-point run that extended the Pioneers’ lead to eight — the largest lead of the night.

After a timeout, the Hornets found McRae in the low post to end the run. Denver battled back and the teams traded buckets. 

McRae finished with a team-high 20 points, seven assists, and eight rebounds.

Sac State’s leading scorer, senior guard Zach Chappell, was quiet for the first half, but he was there when the Hornets needed a spark. Chappell scored a quick three points on two possessions to close the gap to five.

Wilbon kept things rolling with four more points, tightening the Pioneers’ lead to one. The second-year vet in Wilbon finished with 19 points, going 6-8 from the field. 

The physical Hornet defense was smothering the Pioneer attack and they were using their size to dominate the boards.

Chappell took the ball off a high screen from McRae and made a three from deep to give the Hornets a two-point lead with five and half minutes to play. Their first lead in almost 12 minutes.

“We try to enforce resiliency and toughness,” Patrick said. “[The team] bought in and responded when we challenged them.” 

With five minutes left, the Pioneers kept fighting. Freshman guard Justin Mullins tied the game up at 62-62 with a driving layup.

McRae grabbed an offensive rebound on the next possession, which he dished to Wilbon, who drained a deep three-pointer as the shot clock expired. 

With the momentum in their hands, the Hornets went on a six-point run to make it a 71-65 ballgame with 1 minute left.

The Denver offense had dried up right then they needed it the most but a layup from sophomore forward Touko Tainamo gave the Pioneers hope down just four points.

After a timeout, the Pioneer defense went into full press, which caused the Hornets some trouble. Sac State was called for two offensive fouls on two straight inbounds, keeping Denver in the game.

Mullins’ three-pointer couldn’t go on the Pioneers’ first attempt, but they cut the lead to just two points from the free-throw line. 

Wilbon was the Hornet who Denver fouled, putting him at the line to put the game away. Wilbon made the first, and missed the second but kept it a one-score game 72-69.

Running down the court and two seconds on the clock, Denver’s junior guard Tommy Bruner put up a three that clanked off the rim, sealing the Hornet victory. 

Sac State returns to Sacramento for their home opener Friday, Nov. 18 against UC Merced. 

“For us to have this momentum and take it home hopefully to keep it rolling,” Wilbon said. “That would be huge.”