CSUN’s men’s basketball: Wins at UC Santa Barbara in a nail-biter

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CSUN’s men’s basketball: Wins at UC Santa Barbara in a nail-biter

Gilberto Manzano

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WE WON: Rashaun McLemore (2) and his teammates celebrate their second victory on the road. CSUN beat UCSB 70-69 at the Thunderdome. Photo Credit: Monique Muñiz / sports editor

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Defense continues to solve Cal State Northridge’s problems, the latest correction being closing out opponents.

In a wild ending Saturday night, Rashaun McLemore’s game saving steal on a UC Santa Barbara inbounds pass with 5.5 seconds left quieted the Thunderdome crowd and paved the way for CSUN’s 70-69 victory over the defending Big West champion Gauchos.

After Jordan Weiner’s 3-pointer cut the Matadors’ advantage to 68-66 with 13 seconds left, CSUN’s Lenny Daniel forced an inbounds pass to Vinnie McGhee with a Gaucho defender on his back, causing McGhee to tip-toe out of bounds.

On the next play James Nunnally gave up a wide-open 3-point shot to move a few steps closer for a jumper from the right wing. Nunnally missed the shot, but CSUN hit the ball out of bounds.

That’s when McLemore’s crucial steal occurred after he recovered the ball on an inbounds pass meant for UCSB’s Orlando Johnson.

McLemore was immediately fouled and went to the free throw line where he composedly knocked down both shots to ice the game for the Matadors (8-13, 5-3 Big West) and giving them sole possession of second place in the Big West standings and a three-game winning streak.

“Our mind set is defense first, at the beginning of the year we weren’t all thinking about that, but now we’re playing Northridge defense,” said McLemore, who scored a career-high 26 points.

With only one other Matador scoring in double figures, McLemore picked up the slack on offense. McLemore went 6-of-10 from 3-point range and 10-of-13 from the free throw line.

Throughout the game, the wild UC Santa Barbara student section chanted, “Cal State poor” and “You live with your parents and we live by the beach.” It seemed like McLemore heard all the chants as nearly every time he made a 3-point shot, he raced down the court yelling at the student section.

“That’s just me I like to talk a lot, it’s just basketball,” McLemore said. “We got ourselves fired up (not the UCSB fans).”

CSUN head coach Bobby Braswell was pleased with his team’s effort down the stretch against UCSB (11-8, 4-4 Big West), that was picked to win the Big West in the preseason conference poll.

“Good way to finish, this team was picked to win the conference championship, so you know they weren’t going to lie down,” Braswell said. “But we thankfully did enough to win the game. Rashaun McLemore was spectacular on offense in the second half, but defensively we did everything we needed to do.”

CSUN has not allowed opponents to score over 70 points in its current three-game winning streak.

The Matadors held UCSB to 40 percent from the field (19-of-47) and 30 percent from behind the arch (6-of-20).

Johnson, who leads the Big West in points scored per game, led the Gauchos on offense with a game-high 28 points, but his teammates failed to score in double-figures. Nunnally, who is second in the conference in scoring, was held to seven points.

“(Johnson) got every call, but we shut down their other leading scorer,” McLemore said. “We all did good on the defensive end.”

The Matador bench outscored the Gauchos 42-15.

Northridge opened the second half on a 6-0 run to take a 38-32 advantage, forcing UCSB to call a timeout at the 18:59 mark.

The Matadors closed out the first period on a 10-2 run and Daniel’s offensive put-back basket tied the game, sending the two teams to the locker room knotted at 32-32.

Early in the first half, the Gauchos took control of the game on a 12-0 run. McLemore’s 3-pointer stopped the run at the 11:10 mark.

CSUN stayed in the game with its hot 3-point shooting in the first period. The Matadors went 6-of-9 from long range.

Freshman Josh Greene had a key 3-point basket, which also drew the foul. Greene missed the free throw, but CSUN pulled within 32-30 with 1:35 left before halftime.

Johnson had 13 points in the first half and went 9-of-10 from the charity stripe.

CSUN will continue its Big West road trip on Thursday night when they face UC Riverside.