Riverside, Calif – After beating the defending Big West champions UC Santa Barbara on the road and moving into second place in the conference standings, Cal State Northridge’s confidence was at an all-time high.
Coming into Thursday night’s game at last place UC Riverside it seemed to be an easy victory for the Matadors. It didn’t exactly turn out that way as the Highlanders snapped CSUN’s four-game league winning streak with a 73-70 victory.
“I don’t think our mind set was right tonight, we showed a sense that we have made it tonight, kind of a real casual attitude tonight, which we can’t afford to do in a conference race,” said CSUN head coach Bobby Braswell, after the Matadors lost for the second time against UCR this season.
The Highlanders (8-12, 3-5 Big West) had dropped four consecutive games since defeating Northridge (8-14, 5-4 Big West) at the Matadome on Jan. 13.
The Matadors remain in second place in the Big West, but are in a three-way tie with Cal Poly and Pacific.
With five seconds left in regulation and UCR holding on to a three-point lead, Dathan Lyles pumped fake to get an open look at tying the game, but his 3-pointer bounce off the left side of the rim.
“I had an open look, I should have knocked it down, but it didn’t go through,” Lyles said. “We can’t let this game bring us down and we have to get ready for Irvine on Saturday.”
After Rashaun McLemore’s free throws, CSUN took a 62-61 lead with four minutes left. The Highlanders responded back with a 10-2 run.
Phil Martin led UCR’s late surge with six points in the final three minutes of play. Martin, who scored a game-high 23 points, gave CSUN problems defensively.
“(Martin) was the man; he did a great job tonight. You have to give him credit,” Braswell said. “He was our nemesis.”
Braswell wasn’t pleased with the defensive performance.
“We didn’t get our defensive numbers tonight,” he said. “We did not defend and didn’t have the right mindset.”
Michael Lizarraga and McLemore had 12 points apiece for CSUN. The Matadors shot 47.8 percent from the field and the Highlanders 46.8 percent.
Both teams scored 22 baskets, but UC Riverside made 21 free throws compared to the Matadors 18.
Lyles said the Matadors struggles in the first half hurt them in the second period.
“We started off slow and sluggish. We didn’t have the energy like we had in the second half, but it was a little too late for it,” Lyles said.
CSUN returns home on Saturday to take on UC Irvine in Big West play.