Men’s basketball loses to Eastern Washington, beats Dixie State in Good Sam Empire Classic


Connor Clark

Elijah Hardy, 0, in possession of the ball during the game against Eastern Washington University in Northridge, Calif., on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021.

Randy Acosta, Reporter

CSUN men’s basketball (1-3) hosted Eastern Washington University (2-3) and Dixie State University (1-3) in the Good Sam Empire Classic over the weekend. CSUN lost against Eastern Washington on Friday, but defeated Dixie State on Saturday in the consolation game for their first win of the season.

The first game against Eastern Washington started with the Eagles jumping out to a 17-9 lead in the first half after a 6-0 run, but the Matadors would come back later in the half after a 10-0 run, topped off by an emphatic Onyi Eyisi putback dunk over an Eastern Washington defender.

The first half ended with CSUN guard Elijah Hardy putting his team on his back, scoring multiple shots to give CSUN a 31-26 lead. Hardy finished the game with a career-high 18 points.

The second half started with an 8-0 run by the Eagles, giving them a 34-31 lead. The Matadors responded with Hardy having a hot hand and making his next five attempts. A 3-pointer by guard Kailen Rains with less than seven minutes to go gave the Matadors a 58-45 edge, making it the largest lead by any team.

CSUN forward Miles James extended the lead back to nine with a step-back jumper, but the Matadors went scoreless for the final four minutes of the game. The Eagles took advantage of this and went on a 9-0 run, topped off by Steele Venters going to the free-throw line to tie the game at 60.

Hardy would have a chance to make the go-ahead basket as he drove to the paint and tossed up a layup that bounced off the back of the rim. He would secure his own rebound, but missed his shot attempt on the baseline.

The Eagles would hold on to the ball for the last shot of regulation, with Eastern Washington guard Rylan Bergersen putting a shot up that barely came off the rim. The game would head into a five-minute overtime tied at 60.

“It’s early in the year, we’re just trying to get everything figured out,” said Hardy. “Take this on the chin and just keep getting better like we’ve been doing, so the next time we’re in this situation we come out with the win.”

The Eagles would score the first four points in overtime, taking the lead 64-60. CSUN forward Christian Gray would make four free throws in overtime, putting the Matadors down 66-64. With five seconds remaining CSUN guard Darius Beane would foul Venters, who would go to the line to try and make it a two-possession game.

Venters would make the first free throw extending the lead to 67-64, but missed the second that would have given CSUN a chance to tie it. James would get the ball downcourt, but could not get a shot up as time expired.

“The effort was good,” said interim head coach Trent Johnson. “We had an eight point lead with about five-six minutes to go, and then our decision making was horrendous from the point moving forward. That’s an experienced team and when you make mistakes like that they exploit you.”

Dixie State would be the next opponent for the Matadors on Saturday as they played in the consolation game. The Trailblazers jumped out to a big lead in the first half by outscoring the Matadors 30-18, but the CSUN would go on a 16-5 run. CSUN guard Atin Wright had a team-high 18 points. The Matadors went into the half trailing 38-36.

“We picked up the tempo once we started to lose the lead, and I feel like we just pushed this one out,” said Wright. “The past few games when it gets down like that, we tend to give up and not come back and play with no heart and today I feel like we did the opposite.”

The Matadors got off to a slow start in the second half as the Trailblazers extended their lead to 47-38. The Matadors went on a 13-2 run, with Wright giving them the lead with a 3-pointer that made the score 51-49.

The Matadors led for a majority of the half, but the Trailblazers were right there with them. With one minute left to play in the game, CSUN held on to a four-point lead.

The Matadors needed a basket late and Wright was able to deliver, as he made a 3-point shot at the top of the key to put the game out of reach for the Trailblazers. CSUN would win their first game this season 79-73.

“I thought they found a way to make some plays and play for each other,” said Johnson. “They need to enjoy it, it’s been a long time since they won, it’s been a long time with COVID since they’ve played in front of people.”

The Matadors will look to get their second win of the season on Wednesday as they host the University of Saint Katherine.