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West Sacramento News-Ledger

Hornets' season ends with loss to top seed Montana State

Mar 11, 2022 12:00AM ● By By Shaun Holkko, sports editor

Sac State senior forward Bryce Fowler dribbles up court during an 83-61 loss to Montana State on Thursday, March 10 at the Big Sky Tournament in Boise, Idaho. Photo courtesy of Brooks Nuanez "" Skyline Sports,

Hornets' season ends with loss to top seed Montana State [5 Images] Click Any Image To Expand

BOISE, ID (MPG) – The Sacramento State men’s basketball team survived and advanced in the Big Sky Tournament once but were unable to repeat the same magic as their season came to an end Thursday.

The Hornets (11-18, 7-15 Big Sky Conference) began the tournament as the No. 8 seed taking on the No. 9 seed University of Idaho (9-22, 6-15). Sac State won a close game Wednesday morning against the Vandals, 57-54.

However, Sac State met its match Thursday afternoon, falling to the No. 1 seed Montana State Bobcats (25-7, 17-4) by a score of 83-61, subsequently ending their season.

The first 14 minutes of action between the Hornets and Vandals was tightly contested and tied at 19. Then Sac State closed the half on a 12-3 run to take a nine-point lead at 31-22 into the locker room.

The Hornets remained in control with a double-digit lead throughout most of the second half, until Idaho made its run with about three minutes left. The Vandals were able to trim their deficit to one with seven seconds remaining, but two free throws from senior forward Bryce Fowler sealed the win for Sac State.

Fowler, who was named to the All-Big Sky second team, scored a game-high 26 points on 10-of-19 from the field with eight rebounds, four assists and two steals against the Vandals.

“There’s a little frustration with that. I definitely feel like I’m a first team player, top five player in the league,” Fowler said about being named to the second team. "But that’s kind of out of my control.

“I wouldn’t say that fueled me at all, it definitely frustrated me, but I’m not going to change how I play because someone didn’t think I was a top five player.”

Sac State head coach Brandon Laird felt Fowler was deserving of much more recognition from the conference than he received.

“Certainly, for us, it’s all about Bryce,” Laird said. “I’m going to say this just because he’s my guy. And there’s a lot of really great players in this conference so this is not a diss or disrespect to anybody. But in my opinion, he’s the best player in the conference. He’s the most versatile and the most valuable in terms of the different things he does for us. It’s no secret at this point to anyone else, we’re going to play through Bryce.”

Sophomore forward Cameron Wilbon had a strong performance of his own for the Hornets with 18 points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals. Junior guard Trevante Anderson was the only player to score in double figures for Idaho as he finished with 11 points.

“I feel like the biggest turning point in our season (was when) we had like a team meeting where the captains Bryce and Will (senior guard William FitzPatrick), they just put it all out there and told the whole team how they felt about everything,” Wilbon said. “The team, we all realized that we had to step it up each in different ways.”

Thursday’s game could not have started any better for Sac State, getting out to an early 8-0 lead. Fowler scored 14 of the Hornets’ first 20 points in the first 10:41 of the game. The senior forward appeared to be well on his way to matching or surpassing his career-high of 39 points that he scored less than a week prior at the University of Montana.

“We just came out with a ton of energy, kind of gave them a little punch in the face, I don’t know if they were truly expecting it,” Fowler said. “We just came out with a really hot start. We were the aggressors early on and that showed.”

Unfortunately for Sac State, Fowler became stifled by Montana State senior forward Abdul Mohamed and would not score again until there was 3:16 remaining and the game was well out of reach. Fowler finished with a game-high 20 points on 9-of-18 field goal attempts and added seven rebounds.

The Bobcats, who had a first-round bye unlike the Hornets, shook off their jitters and settled in midway through the first half as they took their first lead at 19-18 following a 7-0 run. Montana State led by 11 at halftime, 39-28, and never looked back as they doubled their lead in the second half and ultimately won by 22 at 83-61.

“We kind of got a little fractured as a group when things went wrong,” Fowler said. “We just couldn’t maintain that connectiveness and that spirit we had in the first four to six minutes throughout the whole game.”

Sac State junior guard Zach Chappell followed closely behind Fowler with 19 points and two rebounds. Montana State had five players score in double digits, led by senior guard Xavier Bishop who had 14 points, three rebounds and three assists.

The difference in the game Thursday was bench production, as the Bobcats outscored Sac State 35-7.