CSUN men’s basketball benefits from 76 Classic

Gilberto Manzano

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Vinnie McGhee (11) scored 15 points against Tulsa on Sunday afternoon in the Matadors’ final game of the 76 Classic. CSUN finished sixth with a 1-2 record in the tournament held at the Anaheim Convention Center. Photo Credit: Monique Muñiz Assistant Sports Editor.

A sixth-place finish with a 1-2 record in the 76 Classic was fine for CSUN head coach Bobby Braswell.

Maybe a dominate Matador (2-4) victory over the Big East’s DePaul and Lenny Daniel’s stellar play during the Thanksgiving weekend tournament at the Anaheim Convention Center was enough to satisfy Braswell.

“This tournament is fantastic. I have absolutely no negatives for our program,” Braswell said after the Matadors lost to Tulsa Sunday in the final game of the 76 Classic. “It’s wonderful because you get to play teams on a neutral court. We probably wouldn’t be able to play DePaul unless it was a home game for them if it wasn’t for this tournament.”

Even with a poor outing against the Golden Hurricane where the Matadors fell 80-63, Braswell was pleased with the team’s effort since they had a few players suffering from illness or cramping.

With all the positives Braswell found, he isn’t convinced Northridge will have a Cinderella run to the NCAA Tournament — similar to Butler’s road to the championship game after losing two games in the 76 Classic last season.

“I don’t think that big. I’m just thinking real small for this group right now,” said a laughing Braswell.

One negative the 15-year CSUN head coach found was a slow start against Virginia Tech.

“I thought we played pretty good basketball, besides the first half of the Virginia Tech game,” Braswell said. “We played good basketball throughout the tournament. We just have to get better.”

The Matadors opened the 76 Classic with a 72-56 loss to the Hokies Thursday. CSUN fell behind as much as 22 points but were able to cut the deficit to 10 twice in the second half.

Rashaun McLemore led the Matadors in scoring with 17 points and Dorenzo Hudson had a game-high 20 points for Virginia Tech.

For the first time, Braswell had the opportunity to face his former boss in Seth Greenberg. For two seasons (1990-91, 1991-92) Braswell was an assistant coach under Hokie head coach Greenberg during their days at Long Beach State.

“Bobby (Braswell) is just a really great coach and he’s even a better person,” Greenberg said. “To be at Cal State Northridge for 15 years, that’s hard. To take his teams to two NCAA tournaments and he’s always in the top three in the (Big West).  He does a great job.  I love his young players.  I think his young guys are really good. I hate playing against friends; it’s no fun at all.”

Senior forward Daniel struggled against Virginia Tech, missing 1-of-8 free throws and scoring only seven points.

However, he exploded against the Blue Demons in an 88-66 victory Friday afternoon. Daniel broke out for a career-high 31 points and 10 rebounds.

In the four years of the 76 Classic’s existence, Daniel had the third-most points in a single game.

“My shots are starting to fall and I’m starting to get a feel for the game again,” said Daniel, who was awarded a spot on the All-Tournament Team. “My teammates have given me the ball in the right places so I can make quick moves to get to the basket.”

The Matadors made their first 10 shots from the field against DePaul and didn’t miss until the 11:18 mark of the first half.

CSUN’s dominance continued throughout the half and at one-point was 17-of-19 from the field. The Matadors shot 76 percent from the field in the first half for a 76 Classic record.

Northridge’s 88 points tied a tournament record for points in a regulation game. Arizona State scored 88 points in a victory against UTEP.

CSUN closed the tournament Sunday in a game Tulsa led from start to finish. The Matadors stayed close with an eight-point deficit, 45-37, with 14:57 left in the second half, but the Golden Hurricane was able to increase its lead to 20, the biggest of the game.

Daniel was able to chip in 24 points and eight rebounds to finish the 76 Classic averaging 20.7 points per game and 10.3 rebounds.

Daniel has bounced back in a big way after starting the season with a combined two points against UCLA and California.

“When we played UCLA, they trapped me a lot and I threw the ball away and rushed shots. Coach told me to take my time and not rush my play. I think I was able to do that today,” Daniel said after the Tulsa game.

Next up, the Matadors will travel to Colorado to face Air Force Thursday and Denver Saturday.