Matadors survive 49er rally; defeat Long Beach 82-78

Alonso Tacanga

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With three of Northridge’s big men out of the contest for good, the Matadors needed someone to step up and stand tall in the game’s waning moments.

Seldom-used guard Tony Osunsanmi’s 6 feet and 4 inches were tall enough.

Osunsanmi made the most of his four minutes of playing time following forward Calvin Chitwood’s injury and the disqualifications of conference leading-rebounder Tremaine Townsend and 6-foot-8 forward Jayme Miller, grabbing two rebounds – one of them offensive – making three free throws in the game’s final minute and helping the Matadors get past pesky Long Beach State 82-78 on Wednesday night at the Walter Pyramid.

“It’s what we depend on,” Northridge head coach Bobby Braswell said. “Having enough depth and guys who can step in when other guys are down. Tony (Osunsanmi) was ready to play. He stepped up and had a huge role for us.”

Having lost Chitwood in the game’s early stages to a right ankle sprain, Townsend and Miller carried the offensive load for most of the match, scoring 18 and 15 points respectively. However, both players had fouled out by the 2:09 second-half mark while Northridge (18-6, 10-2 Big West) tried to preserve an ever-shrinking 74-72 lead.

Six-foot-6 swingman Jonathan Heard, the tallest Matador on the floor at the time, put Northridge up 76-72 after a layup moments later. The 49ers (6-19, 3-9) then took a timeout, but couldn’t inbound the ball upon returning and were called for a five-second violation, giving possession back to the Matadors. Northridge ran down the shot clock and hoisted up a shot that missed, but Osunsanmi was there to track down the offensive rebound. He was fouled and made the consequent free throws to make it a six-point game with 38 seconds left to play. Long Beach State didn’t seriously threaten again.

“I didn’t really think (the rebounds) were that big,” said Osunsanmi, downplaying his timely hustle plays. “They (the coaches) just said ‘play your game, you already know what you have to do when you get in there,’ so I just rebounded the basketball and made those free throws.”

Townsend once again led the Matadors in scoring and also in rebounding, grabbing 14 of the team’s 32 total rebounds before fouling out. He had a breakaway dunk in the midst of a 17-7 run that allowed Northridge to go into the half leading 32-24. Long Beach State had kept the game close, even leading by four a few minutes before the run. The 49ers then kept sinking in the second half, but, as it’s been a theme this season, came back to put a scare on Northridge.

The Matadors’ lead kept growing in the second half and at 66-51 with less than nine minutes left in the game, it looked like they would cruise. However, 49ers’ guard, conference-leading scorer Donovan Morris and company used a 19-6 run to erase all but two points off the Northridge lead and set up Osunsanmi’s moment in the spotlight.

“I had faith in my teammates on the bench,” said Townsend, sharing his feelings after fouling out of the tight affair. “I know they’re going to come in and get it done. Just like Tony (Osunsanmi) coming in for me. He came in and got some big rebounds and made free throws when it counted (the most). You just got to have faith in your teammates.”

Heard scored 13 points and grabbed five rebounds for the Matadors. Conference-leading assist-man Josh Jenkins chipped in 12 points and three assists. Guard Rob Haynes, who also fouled out, scored eight points. Morris had 23 points for Long Beach.

The Matadors resume conference play at CSU Fullerton (17-7, 10-3) on Thursday, a clash of the top two teams in the Big West Conference. The Titans, who handed Northridge their only home loss of the season, are only ? game behind the Matadors in the conference race.

Northridge played Rider on Saturday at the Matadome in an O’Reilly ESPNU BracketBuster game, but results were not available at press time.

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