The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Matadors fall by 25 to top seed in Big West

Guard Dionte Bostick, 0, goes up to the hoop against the UC Irvine defender on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, at the Premier America Credit Union Arena in Northridge, Calif.

CSUN men’s basketball was taking on the top team in the Big West. They won five of their last seven, and were looking to secure a bye to the second round of the conference playoffs. The stakes could not have been any higher.

Last time the Matadors faced off against the UC Irvine Anteaters, CSUN lost by five in a thrilling back-and-forth affair. Now, they had a chance to show the Big West they’re not an easy out.

In the final home game before senior night, the Matadors invited eight faculty members to the game, each deemed by a different player to be their most valuable professor. Athletic Director Shawn Chin-Farrell and Provost Meera Komarraju joined the professors to introduce them at halftime.

They were all probably looking forward to the spectacle that was supposed to unfold. Little did they know, the most exciting part of the night would be when the fan doing the layup, free throw, and three-pointer challenge beat the buzzer to win a prize.

The Matadors did not look like the team that started the season 12-3. With bigs Jasman Sangha and Dearon Tucker still recovering from injuries and Jordan Brinson out, the Matadors found themselves down double digits early, and were unable to recover.

“Defensively, we got scored on the first seven straight possessions,” head coach Andy Newman said. “You start the game off down 15, it’s a tough hole to dig yourself out of.”

UC Irvine got to the basket at will, feeding big man Bent Leuchten, who towered above the Matadors at 7’1”., especially with everyone in CSUN’s starting five being half a foot shorter than him.

Leuchten scored seven of the Anteaters’ first nine points, all in the first two minutes of the game.

Thanks to their size advantage, the Anteaters scored 36 points in the paint.

As if the lack of defense down low wasn’t enough, the Matadors also missed their first 10 threes. Gianni Hunt finally cashed in with 11 minutes to play, giving the Matadors some momentum, though it was too little too late.

Hunt finished with 17 points, but it was guard Dionte Bostick who led the way with 20 on an efficient 8-12 from the field.

Bostick says that come March, the team can’t afford to have this many missed opportunities.

“We gotta make sure we take it one possession at a time, and value every possession from here on out,” Bostick said. “In March, it can come down to one possession, so we have to make every possession count.”

The other three starters were pretty inefficient for the Matadors, shooting a combined 5-24 from the field. Notably, the team’s leading scorer, De’Sean Allen-Eikens, went 2-10. He also had five turnovers and committed four personal fouls.

Allen-Eikens had the team’s lowest plus-minus of the game at -25.

“I expect him to respond from tonight,” Newman said. “I think this is the last time you won’t see the best version of De’Sean.”

In addition to the offensive woes, the injuries, and the struggles by Allen-Eikens, the Matadors also missed 15 free throws.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Anteaters only had three guys in double figures, but seven others had at least five points. Irvine had 39 bench points to CSUN’s six.

With UC San Diego ineligible to play in the Big West tournament until next year, the Anteaters have secured the coveted double-bye to the conference semifinals.

The Matadors are holding on to fourth place, but are only half a game ahead of the three teams behind them.

The Matadors will close out their home schedule against UC San Diego Saturday evening, as they say farewell to seniors Allen-Eikens, Tucker, and Jared Barnett. They will then finish the regular season Wednesday against Hawaii.

When asked what the team had to do to secure a first-round bye, Newman kept it simple.

“We gotta win the next two,” Newman said. “We gotta beat San Diego and we gotta beat Hawaii on the road.”

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