The first time the Matadors lost to the Roadrunners this season, it was clearly evident they were not the No. 1 team everyone thought they were at the time.
“I remember a bad taste I had in my mouth about how we played that game,” CSUN Head Coach Bobby Braswell said about the Nov. 21 game in Bakersfield that CSUN lost 67-65. “It shouldn’t even have been as close as it was.”
That was only the second of six consecutive road losses that marked the beginning of a 1-6 start to the overly-hyped 2008-09 Northridge season. The Matadors (10-10) were favored by everyone to blow away opponents, but instead they themselves got run out of buildings. However, in the midst of losing so much, CSUN won something Braswell believed to be a blessing in disguise: humbleness.
More than two months passed and too much changed. That was also clearly evident during Thursday night’s 79-62 romping of those same lesson-teaching Roadrunners at the Matadome. On this night, CSUN not only had 60 percent of a new starting lineup in contrast to the one at Bakersfield, but it also marked down its longest winning streak of the season (four games).
“We didn’t have that niche back then,” CSUN forward Willie Galick said. “When we finally got those two home wins against Pepperdine and Denver (after the six-game losing streak), we started to figure it out.”
Not that a win against a 6-16 team turns a Big West Conference squad into a powerhouse, but it’s a semi-exclamation mark of the Matadors’ recent surge despite all the setbacks it’s seen throughout the season. On Thursday, for different reasons, there was Vincent Cordell, Kenny Daniels and Rodrigue Mels starting in place of what once was Willie Galick, Deon Tresvant and Rob Haynes.
Galick’s found his niche as a reserve player; Tresvant hasn’t been able to play since seven games ago while dealing with off-the-court issues; and Haynes came off the bench due to it being his first game back following a concussion. For good or bad, that was the reality against Bakersfield, one that saw a player that didn’t log a single minute the last time around lead them in time played this occasion (Cordell, 29 minutes).
“Things are different,” Braswell said. “(Last time) Daniels played 1 or 2 minutes. He’s a starter for us now.”
Not all has changed, though. Forward Tremaine Townsend was still in there. The now-leading-scorer was … well … a leader. He got his Matadors out of an early deficit by going away from his main offensive weapon – the post game. Instead, Townsend opted to jump-shoot CSUN back to a lead that made most forget Bakersfield was ever ahead. He led the Matadors in scoring with 14 points despite only playing one half. Townsend had to sit out the second 20 minutes due to a sprained ankle he suffered while trying to corral a loose basketball.
Not many saw exactly when the injury happened. Not even Braswell had an answer as to what took place with his star forward, who ended up in need of a crutch.
“I bent over to pick up the ball and the other players fell on top of me,” Townsend said of his injury.
CSUN started by missing five of its first seven shots, which allowed the Roadrunners to get out to a 14-4 lead less than five minutes into the game. The Matadors then went on a 28-3 run to gain control of the actions. Townsend sparked the outburst, scoring 10 of his points in the stretch and even throwing in a 3-pointer for good measure.
The 6-9 Townsend is not known for his long-distance shooting (5-of-16 for the season).
“How do I like it?” Braswell said. “I like it a lot when they go in. I don’t like them so much when they don’t.”
After Northridge got done with its run to take a 32-17 lead with 5:32 to go in the first half, the game that was deemed as “payback” by several Matadors was pretty much over. The Roadrunners could only get as close as 11 and nothing more the rest of the way. CSUN led by as many as 21 points.
Guard Therin Taylor had 13 points while Haynes and Galick chipped in 12 apiece for the Matadors. Bakersfield was led by guard Alex Johnson (17 points) and forward Santwon Latunde (14 points).
“It’s all about defense,” said Townsend, whose team limited CSUB to 34 percent shooting from the field. “Defense gets us going. Defense wins games.”
That (defense) along with two-plus months of survival (10-10), a lot of change (Cordell and Daniels) and a lot of constants (Townsend) has CSUN nearing its No. 1 level.
“We’re not there yet,” Townsend said. “But we’re getting there.”