Cal State Northridge Storms Back To Defeat UC Irvine, 81-75

Box Score - CSUN vs UC Irvine

By Bob Vazquez, Assistant Athletics Director, Strategic Communications

Northridge, Calif. –
Cal State Northridge head coach Reggie Theus loves the challenge.

 "We are a lot smaller than a lot of basketball teams, always the underdogs," admits the first year head coach. "But the effort and fight we have is incredible. Tonight was a great example. I didn't see any quit in anybody. This was a phenomenal team win."

Theus made the comments to a group of reporters who witnessed a highly dramatic, highly energized come-from-behind 81-75 victory over first place UC Irvine in a Big West Conference men's basketball game on Saturday night before a highly vocal overflow crowd of 1,321 fans at the Matadome.

The old building was rockin' Saturday night.

It was the second straight week the Matadors had beaten a first place team. Exactly one week earlier, CSUN posted an 80-78 overtime victory at then first place UC Santa Barbara.

"Beating these two teams (UCSB, UCI) lets us know we can beat anybody," said Theus. "We were on the attack the entire time."

And for the second straight year at the Matadome, CSUN defeated UC Irvine after trailing by double-digits. Last year, the Anteaters led 25-9 midway through the first half, only to watch CSUN storm back for a 70-61 victory.

Cal State Northridge trailed UC Irvine, 65-49, with 12:08 remaining in the game. But somehow the standing room crowd wasn't filing out the door. Somehow they knew a Matador rally was just around the corner.

The rally was arriving. Cal State Northridge found its offense and its defense smothered UCI's attack to a grinding halt. With UC Irvine in front, 75-65, with 4:29 left on the clock, the Matadors scored 16 straight points to post the six-point win. Six straight free throws by Stephen Maxwell, Josh Greene and Stephan Hicks sealed the Matador win to raise the team record to 14-15 overall and 6-7 in the Big West Conference. UC Irvine fell to 18-10 overall and 9-3 in the conference.

"We have been in that situation before," said Theus of the team's ability to fight back from a sizable deficit. "We always talk about possessions. All we have to do is make stops. When we made defensive stops, our guys took charge on the offensive end and made plays for other people. "

During CSUN's 16-0 run, the Anteaters went 0-for-5 from the field, 0-for-4 from the free throw line and committed four turnovers in the final four-plus minutes. 

The Anteaters feature 7-foot-6, 290-pound freshman center Mamadou Ndiaye, the tallest player to ever set foot on the basketball court in the long history of the Matadome. In their first meeting earlier this year at UCI, Ndiaye scored ten points (5-for-5 from the floor), grabbed ten rebounds and blocked seven shots.

Saturday's scoring line for Ndiaye was much different. The talented center from Senegal, who is the tallest player in collegiate basketball this year, only scored two points (1-for-3 from the floor), grabbed three rebounds and blocked only one shot in 24 minutes. Ndiaye eventually fouled out late in the game.

"J.J. Thomas did a great job of defending Mamadou," said Theus. "If you allow Mamadou to roam the floor, then he's effective. If you try to go away from him, he will block your shot. You need to go right through him. What you saw several times was (Stephen) Maxwell go straight to the contact. When Maxwell tried to finesse a shot, Mamadou blocked the shot. J.J. (Thomas) battled in front of Mamadou while Maxwell came around back. Those guys along with Tre (Hale-Edmerson) did a great job of guarding Mamadou."

Maxwell ended the evening with 20 points (10-for-12 from the free throw line) along with eight rebounds. Josh Greene added 17 points (11-for-11 from the free throw line) and dished out six assists. Stephan Hicks chipped in with 16 points (7-for-8 from free throw line) while Ben Vozzola produced his third straight double-double off the bench with eleven points (3-for-3 from behind the arc).

Cal State Northridge was incredible from the free throw line. A team that is ranked fourth in the nation in free throw percentage, the Matadors hit 38-of-43 from the charity stripe for .884.

That included six straight free throws by Greene, Maxwell and Hicks to end the game on a shining note for Cal State Northridge.

"I just turn my head and start talking about what we're going to do on the next play," said Theus, who knows that Greene's free throws will be on the mark. "Josh is one of the most competitive people I have ever been around. Maxwell, as funny as his shot looks, the ball goes through the hoop. I have no problems with Maxwell on the free throw line."

Greene is among the nation's top free throw shooters at .918 (134-for-146).

Matador Memo …
Stephan Hicks is edging closer to the school record for career free throws … With seven free throws against UC Irvine, the junior now has 389, only seven short of school record holder Andre Chevalier (396, 1990-94)Josh Greene has now taken over the lead in his attempt to become the school's career free throw percentage school record holder … With an 11-for-11 effort against UCI, Greene now has a career free throw percentage of .868 (376-433), just ahead of Chuck Malouf (.867, 1961-64)Greene has now played in 119 games, only one short of the school record set by Jonathan Heard (120, 2004-08).