Big West Tournament: CSUN advances to semifinal with late comeback
ANAHEIM, CALIF — Weird games have a tendency to end that way.
With 17.7 seconds left to go in overtime, down one and the game on the line, CSUN head coach Reggie Theus elected to run an isolation play for a guy who hadn’t made a basket since the opening seven minutes of the first half.
“Calling his name, going against a player one-on-one, I’ll take Max all day long,” Theus said of junior forward Steven Maxwell.
Maxwell found himself at the top of the key, facing single coverage from the Hawai’i defense and his team looking to him to make something happen.
As he drove down the lane and shook the defense with a spin move, he banked in a shot off of the glass that proved to be the game-winner for the Matadors.
The Matadors (16-17) won a nail-biter in overtime against the Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (20-11) on Thursday, 87-84, to advance to the semifinal round of the Big West Championship.
Senior guard Josh Greene led the Matadors with 27 points on 7-13 shooting, including 4-8 from downtown and 9-9 from the free-throw line. Junior guard Stephan Hicks was lights out from the floor, making nine of his 12 shots en route to 21 points.
Standout senior forward Christian Standhardinger finished with 28 points for Hawai’i while junior guard Keith Shamburger added 20 points and senior guard Brandon Spearman chipped in with 17 off the bench.
Adding to the confusion, the Matadors found themselves in a dogfight after being up by as many as 16 in the first half, only to hit an extended dry spell and trail by as many as 13 in the second half.
With 5:34 left to play in regulation and CSUN down by nine, Greene’s 3-point game decided to flip the “on” switch. After missing his first three attempts from beyond the arc, Greene drilled one to cut the Rainbow Warrior’s lead to six. Two minutes later, he splashed another to pull the Matadors to within three.
“I just didn’t want to lose,” Greene said about what went through his mind when making his 3-point shots.
Then, with fire in his eyes, Greene launched a third attempt from downtown and drilled it, tying the game at 74 to send it into overtime. All of a sudden, the Matadors breathed new life.
“When this game got to overtime, I told our guys, ‘This is our game, this is the kind of game we play, this is what we do,’” Theus said. “We grind it out, and that’s what they did.”
With both teams going scoreless in the first minute of overtime, Shamburger broke the seal of the extra frame with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to beat the shot clock. Then, sophomore guard Landon Drew came right back and scored a layup in traffic to cut Hawai’i’s lead to one at 77-76..
After a back-and-forth shootout between Greene and Shamburger ended in a pair of made free throws by Greene, the Matadors were able to force a turnover in the Hawai’i backcourt with less than 20 seconds left in overtime. The unlikely return of possession led to the improbable lefty bucket by Maxwell.
“We all collectively kept fighting, we stuck to the game plan and we just kept grinding it out,” Greene said about CSUN’s win.
While Greene got CSUN to extra minutes and Maxwell sealed the deal, Hick’s strong performance kept the team afloat.
“Before the game, coach (Theus) gave me a lot of confidence at shootaround,” Hicks said. “He told me wanted me to be aggressive. He needs me to score 30. He tells me that every day.”
The Matadors will play the Long Beach State 49ers (15-16) in the semifinal round on Friday at 9 p.m at the Honda Center. CSUN defeated the 49ers in the season finale at the Matadome last Thursday 91-83.
“They’ve a very good team,” Green said of the 49ers. “They’re a dangerous team. They have some good players on their team. But we have some very good players on our team too, so it’s going to be another dogfight tomorrow.”