Cal State Northridge was not anticipated to finish anywhere near the top half of the Big West Conference standings and certainly were not expected to beat the University of the Pacific at Spanos Center, a place where the Matadors have never won in 10 tries.
But that’s exactly what happened on Saturday night as Northridge clinched the No. 3 seed in the Big West Tournament after holding on to a 58-54 road victory over the Tigers to end the regular season.
“We were picked to finished eighth (Big West preseason media poll) this season and to get the No. 3 seed, I couldn’t be any more proud of our guys,” said CSUN coach Bobby Braswell after the Matadors spoiled the Tigers’ Senior Night. “Our seniors really stepped up and they are a big reason why we got the victory.”
With a new format in the Big West Tournament, the Matadors will face the sixth seed Cal State Fullerton, a team CSUN beat twice this season, in the last of four games played Thursday at the Honda Center in Anaheim.
In the past, the one and two seeds wouldn’t play until the semi-finals and would have byes for the first round and quarterfinals. The three and four seeds would skip the first round and face the winners of the games between the five and eight seeds and six against seven. This season, all eight teams will compete in the quarterfinals.
In what was a playoff-like atmosphere, the Cal State Northridge men’s basketball team (13-17, 9-7 Big West) were well aware of their blunders on Pacific’s (16-14, 8-8 Big West) home court.
“There have been a lot of close games here (Spanos Center) and the players knew our history at this place. Even the freshmen came out and played a courageous game,” Braswell said.
It wasn’t easy for the Matadors as they were holding on to a slim 56-54 advantage with 37 seconds left.
On the next possession, the Tigers sent Raymond Cody to the line, who made one of two free throws.
Tiger Terrell Smith missed the game-tying 3-pointer and soon after, CSUN’s Thomas Jacobs made a free throw to ice the game.
“The defense really stepped up for us in the second half. We held Pacific to 0 of 10 from the 3-point line in the second half, we did a great job,” Braswell said.
The Matador seniors provided a huge lift as Lenny Daniel recorded his 16th double-double with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Cody and Rashaun McLemore contributed 13 and 12 points respectively.
Pacific’s Sam Willard scored 20 points and grabbed 15 rebounds and Allen Huddleston chipped in 16.
CSUN held its biggest advantage at the 2:42 mark, 55-46, but the Tigers went on an 8-1 run soon after.
After losing to last place UC Davis Thursday night, it seemed CSUN blew its chance at the three seed, however, a Pacific loss to Cal State Fullerton on the same night kept the Matadors alive.
CSUN got a little bit of payback after the Tigers crushed the Matadors on their Senior Night last season. In the first meeting this year, CSUN gave up a second half 10-point lead and fell to Pacific at the Matadome.
Braswell said Northridge wasn’t trying to avenge previous loses.
“It was about us and taking care of business, nothing else,” he said.
Big West Tournament quarterfinal schedule on Thursday: (1) Long Beach State vs. (2) UC Irvine, noon; (4) Pacific vs. (5) UC Santa Barbara, 30 minutes after game 1; (2) Cal Poly vs. (7) UC Riverside, 6 p.m.; (3) Cal State Northridge vs. (6) Cal State Fullerton, 30 minutes after game 3.