It was a tale of two halves as the men’s basketball team squandered a 16-point halftime lead to drop their second straight home game, losing to UC Irvine 74-68 Saturday afternoon at the Matadome.
The first half was everything head coach Mark Gottfried was hoping for, with the Matadors shooting 63.3 percent in the first half and making seven to 10 3-pointers, while holding the Anteaters to a paltry 24.3 percent showing from the field.
At the half, sophomore Terrell Gomez had already hit four 3-pointers and had 14 points, while freshman Darius Brown II had an excellent all-around first half, recording four points, five rebounds and four assists.
But the Matadors reversed the trends in the second half, shooting just 30 percent from the field and two to 10 from beyond the arc, missing 11 of their last 12 shots and getting outscored 43-21 in the process.
“I thought we played really well. We were out running. I thought our running game was as good as it’s been,” Gottfried said. “We wanted to continue that and I think they slowed the game down a little bit and got us to slow down. That was a little bit more their style. We wanted to play a little bit more up-tempo but I thought the second half was a little bit more the way they wanted to play as opposed to what we wanted to play.”
As Gottfried alluded to, the Anteaters were unable to cope with the pace that the Matadors were playing at in the first half when they ran out to a 47-31 lead and going in to halftime, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that CSUN would win this game handily.
But the one thing the Matadors couldn’t do in the first half — rebound the basketball — came back to bite them in the second half as the Anteaters rode 26 offensive rebounds to generate 36 second chance points.
“I felt like the biggest thing was their rebounding,” Gottfried said. “We couldn’t get a rebound and they had 26 offensive rebounds. I thought that was the name of the game. Our defense wasn’t bad. I thought it was actually pretty good but we gave them way too many second chance points.”
Gomez had the same mindset as his coach and felt that with both senior Blair Orr and freshman Michael Ou missing due to injury, once junior big man Mahamadou Kaba-Camara came out, Irvine had easy access to every missed basket.
“That’s just our backbone. We just can’t rebound well,” Gomez said. “We wanted to keep Kaba in there but they purposely was fouling him to send him to the free throw line so we couldn’t keep him in. So coach just had to ride with us.”
Gomez, who was tied with redshirt freshman Lamine Diane with a game-high 21 points, also said that the first half was different because Kaba-Camara had more license to do things on the ball with Irvine hesitant to foul him early.
“(In the) first half we were running, making shots,” he said. “They couldn’t foul Kaba in the first half because that would have gave their bigs early fouls, but we just couldn’t control the glass. I just think if Kaba was able to stay in there, we would have been able to rebound better.”
After the loss, the Matadors now have a record of 8-12 (2-2 Big West) and need to start stringing together wins if they want to come out on top in the Big West regular season standings.
Their next three games could have a big impact as to where they do finish as they play three teams with losing records this season in Long Beach (8-11), Fullerton (5-12) and Cal Poly (4-12).
After those three games, the Matadors will face their toughest test so far in the Big West as they head to Santa Barbara on Feb. 6 to face the conference-leading Gauchos.
Matadors and 49ers tips off on Wednesday, Jan. 23 at 7 p.m. and can be seen live on ESPN3.