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The student news site of Sacramento State University

The State Hornet

The student news site of Sacramento State University

The State Hornet

Student news without fear or favor

End-of-game paralysis and elite shooting sting Sac State despite improved play

The Hornets play well in stretches, but can’t match opponents’ efficient second-half showings on offense
Jose Diaz
Freshman guard Michael Wilson looks to pass the rock to his teammate Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024. Wilson finished the game with three assists to go along with four boards in 25 minutes of play.

Sacramento State men’s basketball was on the wrong end of an elite display of second-half shooting from three against Northern Arizona. The Hornets played well enough to beat Northern Colorado but continued to let bad stretches of play determine the outcome of their games.

Thursday: Sac State: 58, Northern Arizona: 73

If there was ever a game that was the epitome of “a tale of two halves,” this would be the one. Sac State found themselves on the wrong end of this fable, dropping its ninth game in a row on Thursday to Northern Arizona, 73-58.

The Hornets came out and controlled the pace of the game in the first half. They played the way Sac State head coach David Patrick has so heavily reiterated that he’s wanted to play against conference foes. They were physical, dominated the paint and kept their turnovers to a minimum with just four.

Sac State had a resounding 22 first-half rebounds, with 11 being offensive. They coupled that production on the glass using their strongest attribute, their size, to their advantage, owning a 24-16 paint points edge over the Lumberjacks after one half of play.

Coming into this, it was clear this was the way the Hornets would have to play to win. The Lumberjacks are a fairly undersized team, they start four guards and love nothing more than an opportunity to get out and run the fast break, having a +53 advantage in the last eight games in that area prior to this game.

Sac State did a fine job at containing Northern Arizona on the fast break, allowing just two transition buckets for four points in the opening half.

Junior forward Jacob Holt and sophomore forward Duncan Powell took advantage of that size mismatch down low. The two combined for 17 of the Hornets’ 31 first-half points and physically imposed their will on any Lumberjacks defenders that stood in their way.

Sophomore forward Duncan Powell gets settled in before attempting one of his six free throws against Northern Arizona Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024. Powell finished the game with a double-double, scoring 20 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. (Jose Diaz)

The only thing missing from coach Patrick’s desired inside-out style of play was the outside shot-making. The Hornets had the first step in the process down, converting at a high rate in the painted area, but failed mightily to complete the whole puzzle.

“When your bigs are delivering the way they did tonight, you got to deliver,” Patrick said. “You can’t go 1-of-10 from three, not at home.”

The shooting disparity between the Hornets and the Lumberjacks would end up being the sole difference in the game.

Northern Arizona would go on to hit a season-high 13 threes in the game, with nine coming in the second half. The Hornets, on the other hand, only managed to muster one on 10 attempts.

Junior guard Trent McLaughlin, the Jacks’ leading scorer and third-place bucket-getter in Big Sky play at 16.7 points a contest, put on a shooting clinic. He wasn’t shy about turning to some game-long hecklers with a sullen staredown on his second-to-last trey of the night either.

McLaughlin went 5-of-7 from deep in the second period to which the Hornets had no answer. He ended the game with six threes and 24 total points. Sophomore guard C.J. Ford and redshirt sophomore forward Diego Campisano also added two a piece from downtown in the second half.

“It’s definitely hard when you’re trading twos for threes, statistically you can’t compete with that,” Powell said. “We can’t shoot 10% from three, that’s as simple as it is, we can’t win any games like that.”

Sac State seemed to lose their composure on offense in the second half, but it’s easy to fathom why such panic set in.

The Hornets succumbed to the pressure of trying to match the Jacks’ outstanding shooting from deep, which isn’t something they’ve done this season. They don’t have the personnel to efficiently shoot the three ball at a high clip. Sac State ranks dead last in the conference in three-point percentage and it showed they were forced to do away from what they do best, which is score down low.

“We got to mentally just stay locked in and don’t let the run affect us to the point where we’re sporadic on offense and not moving,” Holt said. “We just got to stick to our principles and really hone in on the defensive end.”

RELATED: Sac State chops down Lumberjacks’ eight-game win streak

Saturday: Sac State: 75, Northern Colorado: 80

The Hornets had a tall task at hand when they welcomed second-place Northern Colorado to town for a Saturday matinee matchup. Sac State played well for much of the game but crumbled down the stretch and dropped its tenth straight 80-75, which equals the longest losing streak since the 2008-2009 season.

Sac State struggled in the early going, but eventually got settled in and went on to play one of their most complete halves of basketball this season. The Hornets were decisive on offense, disruptive with sound rotations on defense and most of all got great production from their primary pieces.

Powell led all players in the first half with 11 points including a stretch of seven straight points that started with a nifty move on a Bears defender, followed by a mean mug to the Hornets sideline after a pretty finish at the rim.

Junior guard Austin Patterson had the type of game he needed to get back on track after struggling the past few weeks.

Patterson had 10 first-half points and went on to score a career-high 29 with seven threes, which was the most points by a Hornet in a game this year. Those 19 second-half points came on timely occasions too as Sac State needed every bit of Patterson’s shooting down the stretch to keep pace with the Bears’ strong collective offensive performance.

“It feels good, I feel like I’m a pretty key part of this team so obviously scoring like that it definitely helps us,” Patterson said.

It wasn’t just the offense that showed up in the first half, the Hornets’ defense was also buzzing. They held the second leading scorer in the conference, Saint Thomas and most recent Big Sky player of the week, Dejour Reaves, to just seven points on 2-of-11 shooting.

This all-around solid play gave the Hornets a 32-27 lead at the half and put them in position to snap a nine-game losing streak.

Sac State huddles during a timeout to go over their game plan Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024. The Hornets kept it close the whole game but ultimately came up just short against Northern Colorado. (Jose Diaz)

The second half featured some high-level offensive showings as both teams combined for 96 points. Northern Colorado shot a blistering 80% from the field, but the Hornets countered it with an impressive 71%, which likely would’ve been enough for them to come out on top if it hadn’t been for their massive mistakes in crunch time.

However, it wasn’t just the ensuing mistakes in crucial moments that put Sac State in a tough spot to pull off an upset. The Hornets also suffered from a free-throw disparity in the second half.

“I told the guys you have to also understand what school we’re at and how the game is going to change in terms of the free throw count,” Patrick said. “I’ve never seen something where someone shoots six free throws in the first-half and shoot 24 in the second-half.”

The Bears shot 24 foul shots to Sac State’s four.

“You have to be able to weather the storm and be able to get through those things,” Patrick said. “When you turn it over too, it compiles and puts more salt on the wound.”

After still being in a position to steal the game with things working against them, Sac State fell apart. The Hornets were up 61-58 with five minutes left in the game before turning it over on the next five possessions. They allowed the Bears to go on an 11-0 run, which resulted in a 69-61 lead with two minutes left to play. At that point, the Hornets made too many mistakes to overcome.

“We just have to take a breath and relax and not let the pressure get to us,” freshman guard Michael Wilson said. “We have to be able to play team ball and trust each other.”

Sac State has seen some promising stretches of play in these past two games. It’s hard to imagine them making any noise in the Big Sky Conference tournament unless they find a way to avoid these mistake-ridden stretches of play that are so badly hurting them down the stretch.

The Hornets will travel to Missoula, Montana to take on the Grizzlies on Thursday at 6 p.m. as part of the first game of two straight on the road.

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About the Contributor
Andrew Edwards
Andrew Edwards, Sports Staffer
(he/him) Andrew Edwards is a fourth-year student at Sacramento State in his first semester at The State Hornet. He is a lifelong sports fanatic and has plans to pursue a career in sports journalism after graduating.
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