CSUN falls short against Hawai’i despite late-game comeback


Chris Torres

TJ Starks, middle, attempts to dribble around Hawai’i defenders, Junior Madut , left, and Casdon Jardine, right, during the first half of their game against the Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors at the Matadome on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021.

Chris Torres, Photo Editor

The ball was inbounded to him in the right corner. TJ Starks, who leads the Big West Conference in points per game, attacked the defender with a hesitation dribble move and created enough space for a pull-up, mid range jumper.




After his first shot attempt was blocked, Starks had another opportunity to take the lead with seconds left in the game.

His jump shot was short but as it came off the rim, Darius Brown II, who had three offensive rebounds on the night, came flying in for the tip-in layup.

However, the layup attempt was unsuccessful.

The Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors secured the rebound and the win with a final score of 75-74.

The jumpball between CSUN’s Fidelis Okereke and Hawaii’s James Jean-Marie to begin the game between the Matadors and the Rainbow Warriors at the Matadome on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. (Chris Torres)

CSUN now falls to an overall record of 7-9, with a 3-6 record in conference play. Hawai’i improves their overall record to 8-7. This is the Matadors fourth loss out of five home games this season.

Prior to the Matadors’ game-winning attempts, Hawai’i was down 74-72 and took the lead after freshman guard Biwali Bayles banked in a heavily-contested 3-pointer with eight seconds left on the clock.

CSUN men’s basketball head coach Mark Gottfried argues a foul call during their game against the Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors at the Matadome on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. (Chris Torres)

Matadors head coach Mark Gottfried said his team put themselves in a position to win the game and it came down to a 30-foot shot that went in off the backboard.

“I thought he missed it so bad he made it,” Gottfried said. “That’s a tough one, but our guys played extremely hard and battled, so I’m proud of them for that.”

The team started off slow to begin both halves of play before coming back to keep Hawai’i on their toes. After the first five minutes, the Matadors found themselves down 12-3, but they retaliated on a 17-7 scoring run. They entered halftime only down two with a score of 34-36.

Hawai’i started the second half strong, going on a 10-2 scoring run and led by as many as 12 points. It was a barrage of five straight 3-pointers that brought the Matadors back.

Starks, who had a career high 31 points, made three of those final five threes including the one that gave them the lead.

TJ Starks ,center, does a left-handed layup around his defender, Junior Madut during the second half of the Matadors game against the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors at the Matadome on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. (Chris Torres)

Despite having a career night, Starks said basketball is a team game and that his 31-point contribution was not enough to get them the win.

“If it was a single man sport, that’s when you focus on your individual goals and things like that, but we’re a team,” Starks said.

Starks led the way offensively, but guards Brown and Brendan Harrick joined him in double digit scoring with 14 and 11 points respectively.

Brown was also the main playmaker for the team, leading with six assists. Forward Alex Merkviladze was efficient on the boards, grabbing 13 of the team’s 43 rebounds.

Gottfried said his team has plenty of time between now and the Big West Tournament, beginning on March 9, to improve.

“It’s how you finish,” Gottfried said. “We’ve got to finish strong and get ourselves ready for that opportunity.”

The Matadors will suit up again Saturday afternoon to take on the Warriors in the second game of their back-to-back series.

CSUN’s Darius Brown II,10, and Hawaii’s Noel Coleman ,4, dive for a loose ball during the second half of their game at the Matadome on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. (Chris Torres)