CSUN men’s basketball defeats conference-leading Gauchos

Forward Lamine Niang, 34, celebrates after the win against UC Santa Barbara on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023, at the Premier America Credit Union Arena in Northridge, Calif.

Maxwell Clark, Contributor

The Matadors defeated the Gauchos to snap a two-game losing streak, taking down the number one team in the Big West Conference while missing one of their leaders due to injury.

CSUN men’s basketball (5-18, 2-10 Big West Conference) was able to snap a five-game losing streak against the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos (18-4, 9-2 Big West Conference) that dated back to 2020, winning 72-67 Saturday on their home floor.

The Matadors played without their best facilitator and second best scorer, guard Dionte Bostick, who suffered an injury against UC San Diego on Jan. 26. Head coach Trent Johnson understood the team would face an uphill battle due to the injuries the team was dealing with.

“One of our best players is out, but [the win] speaks to the competitors in this group and their willingness to stay the course,” Johnson said.

The Matadors got off to a great start when they found themselves on an 8-0 run thanks to a couple of deep shots, making the score 21-15. The Gauchos responded with two jumpers in the paint, making the rest of the first half a back-and-forth affair.

With just over a minute left in the half, UCSB forward Miles Norris scored a three to put the Gauchos up by two. The triple was immediately followed by a three from CSUN guard Atin Wright. The teams exchanged threes one more time in the final 30 seconds, when Gauchos guard Josh Pierre Louis scored a step-back three. With time winding down, Wright threw a deep prayer that hit nothing but net. It sounded like the crowd’s cheers could almost break the decibel levels allowed in the arena.

Wright started the game 0-5 until he hit those two straight three pointers, which kept CSUN’s momentum going. The Matadors ran into the locker room, the crowd cheering as they held a one-point lead, 38-37.

CSUN started the second half on an 11-6 run, but UCSB found a way to halt their momentum. Norris went on his own 12-point run, leaving the Matadors unable to respond as the Gauchos scored 14 straight to go up 57-49. Wright knew the challenges of going up against Norris, who is shooting the three ball at a 35.6% clip.

“He is a talented player. He’s 6-foot-10, almost seven feet, shooting the ball well and getting to the cup,” Wright said. “It’s hard getting the stop on him but we had to be consistent on [defense].”

The tension in the arena kept rising as CSUN went scoreless for almost five minutes. The Matadors were letting the game slip away.

The 14 straight points Northridge gave up to Santa Barbara is nothing that Johnson hasn’t seen before.

“I told them to just keep their poise and stay together, stay positive,” Johnson said. “Continue to try and do the things that we worked on and everything will take care of itself.”

Matador forward Lamine Niang hammered home a dunk to turn CSUN’s momentum around and bring the crowd back to life. The Matadors were now down five with just under ten minutes left.

Six minutes later, Wright pulled off a nasty crossover and hit a turnaround jumper, which cut the lead to two. After an offensive foul by the Gauchos on the next possession, CSUN guard De’Sean Allen-Eikens made a layup to tie the game.

The teams found themselves tied with just under a minute to play. CSUN guard Ethan Igbanugo was trapped just inside the arc after he picked up his dribble with 34 seconds left. The Gauchos gave him an opening, and Igbanugo hit a turnaround jumper to put the Matadors ahead. The Matadors forced a miss and went to the line to put the game away, 72-67.

Igbanugo was glad to hit the game winner but even more excited with the way the team played together.

“It felt good. This will be good momentum for us to go into the rest of the conference games,” Igbanugo said. “I think today, we put in a full 40 minutes of actually playing together, playing hard and smart. When we can do that for a full 40 minutes we are a good team.”

Wright led the team in scoring with 22 points. Though he struggled from inside the arc, he hit all 11 of his free throws and went 3-for-6 in his three-point attempts.

“In the second half, it was really about getting to the line and making our free throws because that’s the way the game ended,” said Wright.

This victory put the Matadors one game ahead of last-place Cal Poly in the Big West. CSUN looks to keep the momentum going when they travel to face CSU Bakersfield, who’s two games ahead of the Matadors, on Thursday, Feb. 9.