Matadors Battle Back From First Half Deficit To Defeat Pacific, 78-61
Northridge, Calif. - It's a team of heart, a team of character, perhaps a team of destiny.
Whatever the description, the nationally-ranked Cal State Northridge men's basketball team is beginning to earn the accolades from fans and the community as a near capacity crowd at The Matadome watched CSUN battle back from a nine-point first half deficit to beat back a highly-determined effort from the Pacific Tigers on Saturday night in a Big West game. The final score ... Cal State Northridge 78, Pacific 61.
The winning streak now stands at a season-best five games. The Matador's overall record is an impressive 12-3, but more importantly, the Matadors sit alone atop the Big West standings with a 4-0 record. The conference start is the best since the school became an NCAA Division I member in 1990-91, and the best league start overall since the 1977-78 season when the Matadors started CCAA play at 5-0.
Pacific, which had beaten Cal State Northridge eleven of the last 12 times previous to Saturday night, was not intimidated by the Matador record or the hostile crowd. The Tigers jumped to a 5-0 lead and upped the margin to seven points, 9-2, with 14:18 in the first half. Cal State Northridge missed its first six shots, and did not score its first basket until 15:13 remaining.
Cal State Northridge mounted a rally to take a 12-11 with 10:54 on a jumper by Therin Taylor, but back came Pacific. A 6-0 Pacific run made it 17-12, and the Tiger lead expanded to as many as nine points, 30-21, with 1:03 left in the first half.
Despite the fact that CSUN shot only .357 (10-28), went 0-for-12 from three-point territory, and was out rebounded, 25-19, the first half ended with Pacific in front by only six points, 31-25. The Matadors were determined to take Pacific's best shot and assume command of the game in the second half.
"We held our own defensively in the first half," said senior all-conference candidate Jonathan Heard. "Our shots were not falling, but we have confidence that the shots will eventually fall ... just keep shooting. That's what happened in the second half, and our defense continued to be aggressive."
Deon Tresvant, who ended the evening with 14 points, said the locker room talk at halftime was one of optimism. "We told ourselves at halftime that the game isn't over, it's just beginning," said Tresvant, who hit four of four 3-point attempts in the second half. "We have been a second half team the whole season, and our defense helped us to victory."
The second half was a much different story. The Matadors shot an amazing 70 percent (21-for-30), a remarkable .750 from three-point territory (9-for-12) and outscored the Tigers, 53-30. The 53 points was the most scored by the Matadors in the second half this year. At one point, Pacific upped its lead to nine points, 34-25 (19:03 remaining), but a 19-9 run in the next six minutes gave the Matadors its first lead (44-43) since early in the game. From there, the Matadors never allowed the Tigers jump in front. A 32-14 run gave the Matadors their biggest lead of the game, 76-57, with 2:03 remaining.
The Matadors, picked to finish sixth in the Big West, have now earned the moniker as "the team to beat" in the league. Head coach Bobby Braswell admits the target is directly on the back of the Northridge jersey.
"Pacific came out aggressively to start the game, and that caught us a bit off-guard," said Braswell. "I told the guys we were not shooting the ball, we were not playing well and Pacific had a lot to do with that. We were a bit impatient offensively in the first half. But I told the guys that we could stay in the game with our defense."
The team listened to the words of the head coach and the results have translated into a special team with big goals.
"It's an absolute blessing to have a group of guys who listen," said Braswell. "They pay attention to details. I told them that the shots we missed in the first half, we would get to fall in the second half if we continued to work hard."
In the end, the Matadors shot .534 (31-for-58) from the floor compared to .407 (22-for-54) for Pacific.
In chalking up a 4-0 league record, three of those wins have been against teams that picked in the pre-season poll to finish 1-2-3, UC Santa Barbara, Cal Poly and Pacific.
"We are fighters, not quitters," said Heard, who tallied a team-high 16 points (8-for-11 from the floor). "We said that the first day of practice. We are a dedicated, hard-working team."
Braswell also echoed remarks by Heard.
"I told the team they are writing their own history," said Braswell. "I told them this is the best (conference) start of any team since the school went Division I. I think they are buying into that. I think this team has talked about their goals. There were a couple timeouts during the game where they got together to remind themselves what they needed to do (to win). That's what you like to see as a coach."
The victory was not without a price. With just less than seven minutes remaining in the game, senior all-conference candidate Calvin Chitwood suffered what has been initially described as a high ankle sprain. Further evaluation will be done on Monday. Chitwood scored ten points (5-for-7 from the floor) and added a team-high seven rebounds along with three steals.
Cal State Northridge continues league action on Wednesday (Jan. 16) at UC Riverside. Game time is 7:00 p.m.
Matador Minute ...
With 32 minutes played against Pacific, senior all-conference candidate Jonathan Heard has now played 2,626 minutes in his four-year Matador career which moves him past Thomas Shewmake (2003-07, 2,625 minutes) into seventh place on the school's Top-10 list.