Matadors drop final regular season game to Hawaii, finish 10th in the Big West


Karla Vazquez

Matadors guard De’Sean Allen-Eikens, 25, holds the ball above the 3-point line as guard Ethan Igbanugo, 21, rolls around him to get some separation from the defender. The Matadors lost 81-55 to the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors at the Premier America Credit Union Arena on Thursday, March 2, 2023, in Northridge, Calif.

Edward Segal, Sports Editor

Senior night presented an opportunity for the CSUN men’s basketball team to end the season strong. After a solid first-half performance, the Matadors could not gain traction in the second and watched Hawaii run away with the 81-55 victory.

The Rainbow Warriors (22-9, 13-6 Big West Conference) were still in the hunt for first place in the conference heading into the game, while the Matadors (7-24, 4-16 Big West Conference) fought to tie UC San Diego for ninth.

As one of the strongest teams in the conference, Hawaii earned the victory through a well-rounded performance. Seven Warriors scored at least seven points, and three of Hawaii’s players finished in double figures. JoVon McClanahan led the pack with 18 points, six rebounds and five assists.

A key reason why Hawaii was able to run away from the Matadors in the second half is their size. For a large portion of the game, the Rainbow Warriors ran a two-big lineup with 7-foot-1 center Mor Seck and 6-foot-10 forward Kamaka Hepa playing a lot of minutes together. The duo racked up a combined 30 points and 20 rebounds, while Seck also secured three blocks. The Warriors as a whole collected 10 offensive rebounds to the Matadors’ four, and scored 28 points in the paint.

Matador head coach Trent Johnson emphasized the importance of defense and rebounding in a game like this.

“Defense travels. The ability to rebound travels. The ability to take care of the ball travels,” Johnson said. “Offensively, that doesn’t travel. So you’re going to miss, and you’re going to make shots.”

Hawaii primarily ran a 2-3 zone defense, using their size to protect the rim.

The Matadors were once again led by sophomore guard Atin Wright, who scored 26 points in 27 minutes off the bench. He scored nearly half the team’s points, as everyone else combined for 29. Wright shot 8-15 from the field and hit three of the team’s four 3s.

Both teams attacked the basket early on. Hawaii jumped out to a 6-4 lead, with all of those 10 points coming inside the paint.

The Rainbow Warriors expanded their lead to seven before a timeout was called, giving the Matadors a chance to try and reverse the momentum. CSUN went on a 6-0 run out of the break, but left Hepa open for back-to-back triples, which brought the Matadors back to where they started.

Hawaii went up by 10 midway through the half, but a sequence of events allowed the Matadors to go on an 11-0 run and take their first lead of the game.

Wright drove to the basket with his right and made the layup through contact for an and-one. Two possessions later, Wright took the ball to the basket for another easy layup. On the other end, Matadors guard Arman Pezeshkian drew a charge to give the ball back to the Matadors.

Pezeshkian came up with another huge play the following possession, forcing a jump ball after the Warriors grabbed the defensive rebound, with the possession arrow pointing to the Matadors. After the ensuing timeout, guard Ethan Igbanugo buried a midrange jumper to cut Hawaii’s lead to three.

The Matadors secured another stop, which led to a runner off the backboard from Wright. Eighteen seconds later, Wright stole the ball from Hawaii guard Noel Coleman at half-court and finished the fast break with a left-handed layup to put CSUN ahead.

On the next possession, McClanahan found freshman forward Harry Rouhliadeff open down low to stop the bleeding.

“Defense!” chants rang throughout the arena over Hawaii’s next few possessions. Fans booed when Seck went to the free-throw line, then chanted “miss again” after his first one rimmed out. On the next possession, the tallest guy on the court quieted the crowd with a putback dunk.

The teams ended the half tied at 33 after exchanging a few more blows. The second half was a different story.

A sizable difference between the first half and the second half was the Matadors’ free-throw shooting. CSUN went 7-7 from the foul line in the first half, but missed nine free throws in the second. In contrast, Hawaii only missed one each half. Each team’s 3-point shooting, on the other hand, took a similar jump from the first to the second half. Both teams shot around 27% from the 3-point line in the first period, and nearly doubled their percentage in the second.

McClanahan buried a 3-pointer out of the gate to start the second half, and Seck came up with a rejection at the other end as Hawaii looked to grab all the momentum. Matadors guard Igbanugo buried an elbow jumper to keep it a one-possession game, but that did not deter the Warriors.

Two minutes later, people again booed as McClanahan took two free throws, but he buried them both to put Hawaii up 42-35.

Hawaii’s double-big lineup with Hepa and Seck was a handful for the Matadors. The Warriors worked through the paint all game, continuously feeding their big men.

The Matadors brought in junior forward Dearon Tucker to add size to the lineup, but Tucker left a couple teardrops short as Hawaii built its lead to 13. The Matadors went almost seven minutes without a field goal.

“Hawaii is one of the best teams in the league for a reason,” Johnson said. “And we were shooting 50% but, you talk about going cold, we didn’t go cold. When you look at the numbers, they’re the best defensive team by their numbers in this league. They’re one of the best defensive teams in the country. So they had everything to do with that as opposed to what we couldn’t do.”

Tucker broke the silence when he muscled his way for a layup and drew a foul. He missed the free throw, but his finish brought some energy back to the Matadors defense. On the next possession, he came up with a huge block to give the Matadors the ball down 11.

But again, Hawaii wasn’t fazed. The Rainbow Warriors ran away with the 81-55 victory, outscoring the Matadors 31-16 from that point forward.

With this loss, the Matadors are locked into the 10th spot in the Big West tournament next week, and will likely have to play the loser of Saturday’s UC Davis versus Long Beach State match to qualify for the quarterfinals.

“It’s a new slate. We need to be positive and try to get better at the things that we can control,” Johnson said. “You can control your effort, you can control your ability to take care of the ball. You can control your ability to shoot the basketball when you’re open with no anxiety and no pressure.”