Matadors can’t deliver knockout blow to UCSB

Alonso Tacanga

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Deon Tresvant alone couldn’t save the Matadors. And Santa Barbara didn’t cooperate one bit in the rescue mission.

Alex Harris and the Gauchos shrugged off a 25-point effort from the Northridge star reserve, held off a small rally and led all the way enroute to a surprisingly-comfortable 77-66 victory over the Matadors Thursday night at the Matadome.

“Obviously, (we’re) very disappointed in our play tonight,” Northridge head coach Bobby Braswell said. “Defensively, we were not very good at all (and) we’re either fouling too much or we get a lot of foul calls. I don’t know what it is, but they shot 30 free throws in the second half and that was critical. (But) we’re not defending.”

The Matadors couldn’t contain a Gaucho offense that shot over 57 percent in the first half and led 43-36 at halftime. Harris scored 15 of his 25 points during that period. Northridge then tightened up defensively in the second half, but got into early foul trouble and sent its opponent to the free throw line 30 times, something that proved to be a crucial counter against any sort of Matador run.

After scrappily fighting back from a 15-point second-half deficit, Northridge got within 71-66 following Tresvant’s free throw with 1:31 left in the game. The guard, however, was called for an off-the-ball foul – one of many – at the other end of the floor, sending Santa Barbara’s James Powell to the line. He made both foul shots. A few seconds later, Tresvant tried to create something offensively for himself, but lost the handle of the ball and, with it, any hope of a miracle comeback.

“The team got a little frustrated with how the game was being officiated,” said Tresvant, referring to fouls being called down the stretch away from the basket. “We just let the fouls get the best of us. They shot (a lot) of free throws. It was a frustration factor that was going through us on the defensive side.”

Harris shot 14 free throws alone in the second half, one shy of Northridge’s team total for those 20 minutes. The disparity at the line helped Santa Barbara keep the Matadors at bay, but so did Northridge’s own offensive woes. The team only made 36 percent of their field goal attempts in the second half and 40 percent overall. They also misfired on 16 of 21 three-point tries.

Point guard Josh Jenkins was the only other Matador in double-figures with 12 points. Jenkins made a three-pointer and a jumper in the second half to help the short-lived mini-comeback when Northridge got within five. The emotional guard was disappointed with the outcome of the game.

“It’s a big letdown,” said Jenkins, unhappy with the fact Northridge was tied in the race for the Big West Conference championship. “We’ve worked hard all year, we’ve been first all year (and) we got the championship (game) at home. There was nothing better you could ask for and we let it slip away. It’s a heartbreaker.”

Santa Barbara took the lead for good on a Harris jumper in the game’s first six minutes. Harris made three treys in the half and helped build a large lead that ballooned up to 16 at the 7:00 mark. Tresvant then started to heat up and cut the lead in half. He continued his hot streak in the second half, but the Gauchos had an answer every time.

Down 50-42, Northridge had a deflection that Powell caught at the top of the key with his back turned to the basket as the shot clock was running down. The Gaucho then attempted a desperation turnaround fallaway jumper with a Northridge defender lunging at him as the timer read zero. To the Matadors’ dismay, it went in. It was that kind of night.

“You gotta give them (Santa Barbara) credit,” Braswell said. “They came in here and really played a lot tougher than we did. That’s disappointing, the fact that we didn’t play tougher than we did tonight.”

Forward Calvin Chitwood had eight points and seven rebounds for Northridge. Santa Barbara forwards Ivan Elliot and Chris Devine scored 16 and 10 points respectively. Powell had 12 points.

The Matadors also played their regular season finale on Saturday against Cal Poly, a game that played a part in deciding the Big West’s championship and seeding for the upcoming tournament. Results were not available at press time.