Any time Northern Arizona was building momentum, Sacramento State had an answer.
The answer was consistently Hornets senior guard Marcus Graves, who scored 27 points on an efficient 10-of-18 shooting from the field and 6-of-8 shooting from 3-point range as his ninth-seeded Hornets beat the eighth-seeded Lumberjacks 72-60 in the opening round of the Big Sky Conference Championship Tournament in Boise, Idaho.
Lumberjacks head coach Jack Murphy is now 1-7 in his time at Northern Arizona in the Big Sky tournament and his teams have lost five straight tourney games.
Late in the first half the Lumberjacks were down five to the Hornets with just under five minutes on the clock. Sacramento State had led most of the half and Northern Arizona was playing from behind but kept the game close.
That was until Graves ignited a 13-3 run over the final 4:44 of the first half. The senior guard scored 10 of the 13 points, including two 3-pointers and two layups. The Hornets finished the first half 8 of 9 from deep, beating their season average of five makes per game after just one half of basketball.
Sacramento State guards Graves and Izayah Mauriohooho-Le'afa outscored the Lumberjacks in the first half by themselves, combining for 29 points on 7-of-7 shooting from beyond the arc to Northern Arizona’s total of 27.
Mauriohooho-Le'afa finished the game with 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting while going 5 of 8 from the perimeter. He and Graves went 11 of 16 from deep for the game, outshooting Northern Arizona (7 of 20) by themselves.
“They’re a different ballclub when (Mauriohooho-Le’afa) is making 3s,” Murphy said to Skyline Sports following the game. “When he’s not making 3s, they’re not as good. When he’s making 3s, they can beat anybody in the league.”
Heading into the halftime break, the Lumberjacks were behind 42-27 -- a deficit that was too much to come back from.
Sacramento State came into the opening round as the 344th-ranked team in the NCAA in made 3s per game -- averaging just 5.2 per contest. Against Northern Arizona, the Hornets obliterated that number, going 12 of 20.
Stopping the Hornets guards was a point Murphy made prior to the game, but the Lumberjacks struggled to defend -- partly due to keeping control of the ball.
For the game Northern Arizona had 18 turnovers, one shy of the team’s season-high mark of 19. The Hornets scored 28 points off the 18 Northern Arizona giveaways. Northern Arizona guard Carlos Hines had nine of his team's 18 turnovers.
Luke Avdalovic and Bernie Andre each finished the season by making a mark on the program’s all-time lists.
Andre, who finished the loss to Sacramento State with team-highs in 19 points and 12 rebounds, finished the year with 262 total rebounds. The mark moved him into 10th on Northern Arizona’s single-season rebounding list. The first-year Lumberjack ended the season as his team’s leading scorer and rebounder.
Avdalovic went 3 of 7 from the 3-point distance against the Hornets and finished his season 73 of 148, good for 49.3 percent, putting the marksman at seventh in single-season 3-point shooting percentage.
Northern Arizona finished the year 10-21 overall and 8-13 in Big Sky play -- both the team's best marks since the 2014-15 season.