Matadors crush 49ers in showdown for “best in the Big West”
Alonso Tacanga / Sports Editor
The two coaches spotted each other and walked to midcourt on Saturday afternoon prior to the tip-off of the game that would undo a tie for first place between their teams in the Big West Conference. The 49ers’ Dan Monson approached CSUN’s Bobby Braswell’s with a smile. Braswell held out his hand.
“I’m not sure if I want to shake your hand,” Monson said as he grabbed Braswell and gave him a hug.
Monson’s playful remark would have likely had a more serious tone had it happened postgame, not pre-game, as Braswell was the one all smiles following the Matadors’ complete obliteration of Monson’s 49ers, 95-74. The Matadors (14-12, 10-4 Big West) more than just undid the tie and grabbed sole possession of first place in the conference, they also showed a near-sold-out Matadome crowd that they might just have the tools needed to survive the loss of a leading scorer (Deon Tresvant) and a starting point guard (Josh Jenkins).
“They are Gidion’s army,” Braswell said, comparing his Matadors’ season to the bible story in which an army of 300 men defeat a considerably larger one with divine help.
The only one in need of any sort of help on Saturday was Long Beach State (14-13, 9-5). The 49ers, who didn’t hold a single lead on the day, got down by 13 points going into halftime as CSUN shot 60 percent from the field and made six of eight three-pointers. The second half only made things worse for LBSU. Anything the Matadors threw up went into the 49ers’ hoop. With 10:00 to go, following a Mark Hill 3-pointer, CSUN held its largest advantage of the game, 79-51.
The 49ers never got closer than 18 points the rest of the way. The Matadors shot a blistering 62 percent for the game, quite a contrast from their prior outing, a 62-57 win over UC Santa Barbara in which they almost missed that same percentage.
“We knew what was at stake,” said CSUN senior forward Tremaine Townsend, who – in his last game before his home crowd – led a balanced attack with 17 points.
The Matadors couldn’t have picked a better time to come out of their semi-funk. Over the three games that followed the loss of Jenkins to injury, CSUN had only shot 39 percent while going 1-2. Jenkins’ stand-in, Mark Hill, had only shot 25 percent himself while averaging 2.3 assists and 4.3 turnovers per game.
On Saturday, in the showdown against Beach town, Hill was a new man. That was clear from the very beginning. He had an assist in three of the Matadors’ first five baskets. He finished the game with 11 as well as 15 points and just three turnovers.
“Against UCSB, I just wasn’t focused,” Hill said. “(Saturday), we finally got our vibe.”
Six Matadors scored in double figures: Hill, Townsend, Willie Galick (14 points), Rob Haynes (14), Kenny Daniels (13) and Vincent Cordell (11).
The 49ers, and plenty of fandom, entered the game expecting a 40-minute, toe-to-toe battle. They were more than fine with that. Prior to Saturday, Long Beach State had gotten its last three Big West wins each by a single point. Its last three conference losses had also been nailbiters, coming by a combined 10 points.
The Matadors didn’t let the streak of close games continue for the 49ers. Instead, they smacked them in the face and embarrassed them on TV.
“Long Beach State has a great team, obviously, but our group has just done a great job at home,” said Braswell, whose team went 10-2 at the Matadome this season. “They were just determined not to lose their last home game.”
The 49ers’ only bright spots were what future Big West basketball is made of. Freshmen T.J. Robinson and Larry Anderson had 19 and 16 points respectively.
Despite the Northridge domination, Anderson was virtually unstoppable in the first half. The only thing that prevented him from scoring in the period was his coach sitting him down after he picked up his second foul with 10:27 to go. Anderson finished the half with 14 points.
The 49ers left town long-faced and defeated, but knowing not all hope is lost as far as the regular-season championship is concerned. And, for the record, Monson – not a sore loser by any means – shook Braswell’s hand again. After the game.
“Good job,” Monson told him.
Too premature a compliment?
“We haven’t done anything yet,” Braswell said. “We still got two tough games to play.”
The Matadors, in control of their destiny, will close the regular season with visits to UC Davis and Pacific on Thursday and Saturday respectively. LBSU, one of just two teams that could dethrone CSUN now, has trips to Cal Poly and UCSB.