CSUN Head Coach Bobby Braswell slammed his foot on the floor in anger, passed his hand through his hair in frustration, fell flat onto his chair in dismay and got up like a spring as he struggled through his clenched teeth to not let out a fine-meriting remark to his dear friends: the refs.
He was trying to make it known to them that it wasn’t very nice to concede UC Riverside 13 straight points all on free throw attempts as his Matadors (12-10, 8-3 Big West) began to pull away in the second half of a 77-64 win over the Highlanders at the Matadome Saturday night.
“That’s (Braswell’s) job,” CSUN point guard Josh Jenkins said. “He’s got to work the refs.”
In the end, like almost always, players – not the refs – decided the game. The ones from CSUN responded to the fest that was a second-half free-throw parade that didn’t make much for ratings for the nationally-televised game by making shots. The ones from UCR (14-10, 6-6) dug themselves a hole too deep to come out of and it all resulted in the home team taking a sixth straight win, solidifying itself as No. 1 in the Big West Conference.
After going free throw-less in the first half, UC Riverside shot 25 of them in the second. Most of those came on non-shooting plays. The Highlanders’ leading scorer, Kyle Austin, had 14 of his 16 points in the closing period. Eleven of those came from the line.
“Our defense relies on pressure heavily. The refs were making the right calls,” said Jenkins, who had 19 points and seven assists.
Even with the right calls giving the Highlanders some help to stick around, the Matadors had a 14-point lead with 6:41 to go. That got cut in half after a jumper from UCR guard Javon Borum brought the Highlanders within 68-61 with 3:21 to go in the game.
CSUN guard Mark Hill responded with a 3-pointer to push the lead back up to double digits, but Konner Veteto made a free throw to allow his Highlanders to still loom about with 2:50 to go. Then, it was Jenkins time. The point guard made a 3-pointer. Then another. The lead ballooned up to 15 with 1:32 and the game was sealed. The Matadors could start thinking about their post-game plans.
“Happy Valentine’s Day,” Jenkins said.
After holding opponents to 36 percent-shooting over the past five games, CSUN’s defense was not up to its standards in the first half and allowed UC Riverside to shoot 50 percent. The Highlanders held a tight lead until CSUN reserve Rodrigue Mels made a 3-pointer to put the Matadors up for good, 27-24, with 3:03 to go in the first half.
After halftime, things went back to the Braswell way. The Matadors held UCR to 41 percent shooting from then on.
“They played better in the second half defensively,” Braswell said.
“Learning how to play Northridge defense isn’t the easiest thing,” Jenkins said.
Offense was just as important to put away the up-and-coming Highlanders. Mels had eight of his 16 points, two of them coming off a highlight steal-and-dunk, in a 90-second span to make it a 12-point advantage for CSUN. From there on out, getting Braswell’s 200th career coaching win was just a matter of surviving 25 free throws.
Also helping the Northridge offensive cause were 13 points from forward Kenny Daniels and 10 from Tremaine Townsend, who didn’t start due to what he said to have been “personal issues at practice.”
Afterwards, Braswell, who is all about practice, was caught by surprise upon hearing he had reached the 200-win milestone.
“Is it?” he said when told. “It’s a blessing.”
And when reminded of his in-game chats with his friends in the striped shirts, Braswell also chose to pay little attention to that.
“Are you trying to get me suspended?” he laughed.
Braswell, pretty sure that he’ll be allowed to coach in the next game, will try for win No. 201 on Wednesday at UC Irvine. CSUN has lost its last three visits to the Anteaters.