The Matadors succeeded on one of their defensive goals. They forced an outstanding three-point shooting team into missing 20 of 23 long-ball attempts. Even Big West Conference leading-scorer, Titans’ guard Josh Akognon, only made one of his 10 tries. Forward Tremaine Townsend (right) tries to block a shot by Fullerton’s Scott Cutley during Saturday’s 80-72 loss to the Titans at the Matadome. (Brian Mount, Staff Photographer)
But then Akognon’s teammate, the conference’s fifth-best scorer Frank Robinson, drilled a last one. And Northridge’s undefeated conference and home records were over.
Robinson’s three-pointer with 50 seconds left gave Fullerton a four-point edge that proved to be the difference as the Matadors had a rough offensive outing, couldn’t hold on to a second-half lead, and lost their perfect records with an 80-72 defeat Saturday night at the Matadome. Jonathan Heard had 13 points and Tremaine Townsend scored 12 to lead Northridge (15-5, 7-1 Big West).
“They picked up their aggresiveness offensively and we got comfortable with our lead,” said head coach Bobby Braswell. “We looked at the scoreboard and thought it was our offense that got us to that point and it really wasn’t. It was our defense. Then (Fullerton) started attacking the rim a little bit and made some tough plays and we weren’t able to stop them.”
Northridge held its biggest lead of the night, 60-52, after Heard put down a two-handed dunk with 9:33 left in the second half. Fullerton (14-6, 7-2) responded with only its third three-pointer of the night in the subsequent play and then the Matadors began to struggle offensively.
The Matadors managed only two more field-goals and were outscored 28-12 for the rest of the contest. A Josh Jenkins floater with two minutes left gave them their last lead of the night, 73-72, before Fullerton forward Scott Cutley got it back for good with a jump shot. After both teams traded misses, Robinson threw in the final three of his 15 points.
“It was the little things towards the end, a missed layup there, a missed free-throw, a missed box-out,” said Townsend, who only had two points before intermission. “Just little things that you don’t realize how important (they) are at the moment.”
Jenkins’ long jumper at the other end fell short and the Titans had escaped the Matadome with the win and a shorter distance to climb for the conference’s top spot.
“It hurts. It’s a loss. We fought, but sometimes it doesn’t go your way,” said Heard, who also grabbed eight rebounds. “But the fact of the matter is we’re still in first place. We still got that target on our backs and we know what we got to do. We’re going to hurt this loss, but we’re still first so we’re not going to cry because it’s still on us (to stay first).”
Neither team shot better than 40 percent from the field. The Matadors were out-rebounded 51-43 and did not have an answer for Cutley, who burned them for 19 points and 11 rebounds, six on the offensive end. Akognon had 17 points despite misfiring on 12 of his 15 attempts. He was a perfect 10-for-10 from the line.
Northridge started the game with a 5-0 lead but Fullerton quickly retaliated and held a small margin for most of the first period. A series of Matador turnovers in the final two minutes allowed the Titans to give themselves a 46-37 halftime lead. The Matadors came back and tied the game at 50 after a Jayme Miller jump shot that prompted the visitors to call a timeout.
A 10-2 run gave Northridge its biggest advantage of the game, but everything seemed to go downhill for the Matadors from then on. Fullerton came back, took the win and then celebrated with a group of their fans that had taken a bus all the way to Northridge just to see their team take on the then-undefeated Matadors.
“We were out of sync,” said Jenkins, who had 10 points and eight assists in the game. “We got that lead and started feeling good about ourselves and we stopped thinking about executing the plays and working as a team.”
Fullerton also had an advantage at the free-throw line, making 24-of-30 to Northridge’s 11-of-17.
In spite of the loss, the Matadors still hold a one-game lead on the standings over the Titans and will take on Pacific (15-6, 6-2) this Thursday at 7 p.m. The road game gives the Matadors a chance to knock off another conference title hopeful.