Matadors escape attack by Anteaters

Alonso Tacanga

The surprising Anteaters seemed to have something extra as they flushed back-to-back dunks and blocked junior guard Paul Wayne’s jumper to preserve a tie just before a timeout.

The Matadors were perturbed, not understanding what was taking place. Just then, a player that hadn’t logged in a single minute the entire night gave some gentle, wise words of encouragement.

“The heart. The heart,” reserve guard Rai Colston said to his teammates as he pumped his chest during the timeout. “Let’s go.”

?And they went. Slowly, but they went.?

The Matadors found their way back just in time and survived a major scare from UC Irvine to grind out a tough 69-64 win Thursday night at the Matadome. Guard Josh Jenkins led Northridge with 15 points and forward Jonathan Heard and center Jayme Miller chipped in 11 each.

“Boy, you gotta give Irvine a lot of credit,” said CSUN head coach Bobby Braswell. “They played with a lot of passion and a lot of heart tonight. They gave us a great game.”

“I expected it and we kind of warned our guys. But again, it goes back to our numbers,” said Braswell. “The key for us was (that) defensively we did the things that we needed to do.”

?The Matadors indeed held the Anteaters to just 37.7 percent shooting from the field and shot almost 48 percent themselves. Irvine managed to keep the game close throughout and even took a four-point lead early in the first half. Northridge managed to come back and take a slim 33-31 lead into intermission, but things would go down thereafter.

?Northridge scored the first four points of the second half, but Irvine quickly retaliated with a lay-up and a three-pointer to cut their deficit to 37-36 at the 14:54 mark. Two and a half minutes later, after two Anteater dunks locked the teams into a 40-40 tie, a time out was called as the incredulous Matadors tried to get back their focus. No one needed the break more than Jenkins. The team’s leading assist-man had been frustrated throughout the night by Irvine’s rough play and he committed five turnovers.

You’re not going to play up to your potential every game said Jenkins, who only had six points before that point. “But that’s what a team is for, there’s no ‘I’ in team. So my teammates were there to pick me up and cheer me on and I started to get more into it.”

After the pause, the Matadors caused an Irvine turnover. Forward Tremaine Townsend missed a jumper at the other end, but Heard tipped in the miss to regain the lead. Miller then scored on a lay-up to make it a four-point cushion that finally got the 1,508 nervous fans at the Matadome back on their feet. A Heard three-pointer off a Jenkins assist at the 7:52 mark completed an 11-2 run that gave the team a 51-42 lead. Irvine hung around and even got within four points with 11 seconds left in the game, but Northridge held on.

“Irvine is a great team. They gave us their best shot. (But) we feel every win is not going to be a blowout win,” said Heard, a senior. “Sometimes you just gotta grind it out and we found out tonight that we’re that type of team. We feel like we can play any style.”

Jenkins came out of his funk after the game-deciding time out. He made a running lay-up and sank seven straight free-throws down the stretch to keep the Anteaters at bay. His backup, Wayne, only scored four points. His 13 minutes in the game, however, helped slow down Irvine’s offensive tempo. Jenkins gave him credit for boosting the team’s defensive urgency and firing him up.

“Me and Paul are close. He tells me he always wants to be on defense. He never wants to play offense,” said Jenkins, the Big West Conference’s assist leader. “He’s an automatic striker with defense. He brings up the tempo right away. Sometimes it’ll be me bringing up the tempo, but tonight it was Paul Wayne at the point guard position. He ignited me.”

?The Matadors’ defense also put the clamps on the Anteaters’ leading scorer Patrick Sanders. The 6-foot-6 guard was averaging over 15 points coming into the game, but was limited to 2-of-8 shooting up to the last 23 seconds of the game, where he scored six of his 11 points. His teammate, center Darren Fells, had 16 points.

?Star reserve, leading-scorer Deon Tresvant had nine points for the Matadors, but was held scoreless in the second half. Braswell, a defense-first approach man, said Tresvant’s defensive intensity was huge, however.

?On a night that didn’t go as planned, the Matadors needed every bit of that intense passion.