Northridge head coach Bobby Braswell called out “emergency” to guard Deon Tresvant midway through the second half. If the play call was a signal for him to carry the offense along with teammate Josh Jenkins, it worked, all the way down to the final second.
Then, Tresvant fell one shot shy of a successful basketball 911 phone call.
Tresvant couldn’t complete a great night from the field and missed a potential game-winning, off-balance jumper at the buzzer, allowing non-conference, ESPNU BracketBuster rival Rider to escape with a 73-72 win over the undermanned Matadors Saturday night at the Matadome. The game was nationally-televised on ESPNU.
“I felt like it was going to go in,” said Tresvant, who had 18 points, of his shot.
The Matadors (18-7, 10-2 Big West) were down by as many as 12 points early in the second half before mounting a game-tying rally, courtesy of Tresvant and Jenkins. Tresvant took over first, scoring eight points in a 4:20 span midway through the half. Then Jenkins stepped up, burying two three-pointers and scoring 14 of his 21 points in the final six minutes. His two free-throws with 28 seconds to go completed the comeback and tied the game at 72.
However, Rider guard Ryan Thompson was fouled at the other end with six seconds left and sent to the free throw line. He made his first attempt, but missed the second, giving Northridge its final gasp. The ball was rebounded by Tony Osunsanmi and passed to Tresvant, who ran the length of the court as Rider defenders chased him. He then rose up for a 15-foot fallaway jumper, but barely missed it off the glass.
The comeback occurred with 6-foot-9 Tremaine Townsend and 6-foot-8 Jayme Miller looking on from the bench due to foul trouble.
“The way we played in the first half, we weren’t very good,” said Braswell, talking about a first half where the Broncs shot over 47 percent from the field. “Obviously Trey (Townsend) and Jayme Miller’s foul trouble really hurt us. We were really small, but I’m really proud of the way our guys battled in the second half.”
Credit the Matadors’ foul trouble to Rider center Jason Thompson. Despite only scoring 11 points, the 6-foot-11, 250-pound senior proved to be a handful for anyone Braswell threw at him. Townsend picked up his fourth foul with more than 16 minutes remaining in the half and had to sit out most of it. Miller was disqualified with five fouls by the 12:57 second-half mark. Even Osunsanmi, a 6-foot-4 reserve, took a shot at guarding the big man and picked up three fouls in only 13 minutes of playing time.
“He’s (Jason Thompson) a good player and I just (defended him) the best I could,” Townsend said. “I thought I did a good job, but got some calls here and there and got into foul trouble real quick.”
But Jason Thompson, who averaged 20.3 points coming into the game, wasn’t the one that hurt the Matadors the most. That honor belonged to his teammate, guard Harris Mansell, who scored 21 points and showered Northridge with back-breaking, momentum-halting three-pointers.
With Northridge having cut into the lead and only trailing by two with 5:43 to go in the second half, Mansell drove to the basket only to have his layup attempt blocked emphatically by Matador swingman Jonathan Heard. However, as he did all night long, Jason Thompson collected the offensive rebound. He swung it out to Mansell, who had retreated behind the three-point line, and the guard drilled the shot to make it 65-60. An almost-identical play ensued two minutes later: Northridge down by two, Rider almost-turnover, all-around battle for the basketball, bounce to Mansell, and uncontested, made three-pointer.
Northridge didn’t let the gut-wrenching shots discourage them, however, and came back to tie it behind a collective team-effort. Undersized as they were, the Matadors still out-rebounded Rider 21-16 in the second-half. Perhaps those positives had Jenkins feeling optimistic about the outcome.
“We’ve been in the shadows for a while,” the 5-foot-10 point guard said. “I felt this was a big game to show what Northridge and the Big West (Conference) has to offer. We took some strides this game in showing the Big West isn’t as weak as everyone thinks it is.”
Miller had 10 points before fouling out. Heard scored eight. Townsend scored only three points, but had 10 rebounds. Jason Thompson had 13 rebounds, five of them offensive. Thompson’s younger brother, Ryan, had 16 points for Rider (19-9, 11-5 MAAC).
The conference-leading Matadors resume league play on Thursday at second-place Fullerton. The Titans, the only Big West-team to win at the Matadome, are only half a game behind Northridge in the conference. Tip-off is set for 7:05 p.m.