By Bob Vazquez, Assistant Athletic Director (Media Relations)
San Luis Obispo, Ca. – To win at the NCAA Division I college basketball level, a team needs to have all its offensive and defensive weapons healthy and available.
This year, Cal State Northridge has relied on the talents of several key players to lead the Matadors including Stephan Hicks who has emerged as one of the top players in the Big West Conference.
With all their forces available during Saturday night's conference game at Cal Poly, the Matadors fought valiantly in the first half against a worthy opponent, Cal Poly.
The result was a 37-32 lead at halftime in favor of Cal State Northridge.
However, with 16:36 to play in the second half and CSUN in front (44-41), a costly injury hit the Matadors. Hicks was injured when he fell to the floor underneath the Cal State Northridge basket. A diagnosis by Head Athletic Trainer Steven Grech revealed that Hicks suffered a hyper extended left knee.
Hicks did not return the remainder of the game. With Hicks not available, the Matadors missed his leadership in addition to his team-leading 17.4 points and 7.8 rebounds per game average.
Cal Poly, in the next 2:03, took the lead it never surrendered and eventually recorded a 75-64 victory over Cal State Northridge.
"The team played extremely hard and competitive, but Hicks' injury was a big blow to us," said head coach Bobby Braswell. "He's our leader, and we just couldn't respond well to that (Hicks' injury). Give Cal Poly credit. They kept the pressure on. When we did get (defensive) stops in the second half, we were not able to convert (on the offensive end)."
Last season, Cal Poly set an NCAA record by hitting its first eleven three-pointers against Cal State Northridge. The Mustangs tried the same strategy on Saturday night, but this time CSUN was ready. The Matadors held the Mustangs to a 0-9 shooting effort from behind the arc until Hicks' injury.
"We did a good job of covering their shooters," said Braswell.
But after Hicks' injury forced him to the sideline the remainder of the game, Cal Poly 's shooter got hot. The Mustangs hit three of their next four shots from three-point territory, and their two post players, Chris Eversley and Brian Bennett continued their offensive assault.
Eversley ended the game with a career-high 30 points and 14 rebounds (one short of his career-high) while Bennett had 17 points and six boards.
"We didn't do a good job of defending their post players, Eversley and Bennett," said Braswell. "We just had too many defensive lapses and you can't do that especially when you are on the road."
Cal State Northridge twice pulled to within four points before the Mustangs outscored the Matadors, 8-1, over the final 3:30.
With the score tied 30-30 with 2:09 remaining in the first half, the Matadors went on a 7-2 run to take a 37-32 halftime lead, its largest lead of the first half.
Landon Drew hit a three-pointer as time ran out in the first half to give the Matadors some spirited momentum heading into the second half. Hicks scored only four points in the first half, but helped a strong CSUN defensive effort with eight rebounds. Drew, Josh Greene and Stephen Maxwell picked up the offensive pace with eight points apiece. Trevone Williams added seven points.
The Matadors had only five turnovers in the first half.
Cal Poly shot only .375 in the first half, but shot .536 in the final 20 minutes.
"Our defensive intensity in the second half wasn't as good as it was in the first half," said Braswell. "Too many breakdowns and we let Eversley go off."
Trevone Williams ended the evening with career-highs in points (15) and rebounds (8) in 31 minutes in a reserve role for Cal State Northridge. Stephen Maxwell and Josh Greene each scored 14 points while Landon Drew added ten points and a career-high nine assists.
Cal State Northridge fell to 10-11 overall and 1-8 in the Big West Conference. Cal Poly is 9-9 overall and 5-3 in league competition.
Matador Memo …
Cal State Northridge will continue the third game of its four game road trip on January 31 at Cal State Fullerton … Game time at Titan Gym is 7:00 pm.