It was the middle of a timeout in the first half and the Matadors were sweating more than an Eskimo in a Miami summer. Head Coach Bobby Braswell looked at their somber, stern faces. It was then when he could have declared himself a clairvoyant. For you see, Braswell knew exactly what was going to happen for the rest of the night.
“I told them it was probably going to be a grinder,” said Braswell after his team indeed “grinded out” an 84-81 win over a surprisingly-improved UC Davis Monday night at The Matadome.
But it didn’t need to be as “grindy.” It took CSUN (5-8, 2-1 BWC) 39:19 of game time to finally get a should-have-been-good-enough 82-76 lead. However, it took less than 30 seconds for them to almost completely blow it. With 17 seconds remaining in the game, the Aggies were within 82-81.
How in the world did that happen?
“You can’t underestimate any team by any means,” said Tremaine Townsend, “the beast” as Braswell called him, who led all scorers with 25 points.
It’s a bit more complex than underestimating, though. After Northridge took the six-point lead, Ryan Silva – who as of late Monday was likely to be well-remembered for the next time these teams hook up, in Davis, March 5 – made a wide-open 3-pointer to cut the lead in half. Consequently, UC Davis began to play the fouling game and sent Townsend to the line for two free throws. The game paid off. Townsend missed both. However, after the second miss, forward Willie Galick appeared from out of nowhere to grab the offensive rebound and give possession back to CSUN with 25 seconds left in the game.
“I choked on those last two (free throws),” Townsend said. “But my other big man was there to get the big rebound.”
But it wasn’t over. The ensuing inbounds pass went to Jenkins, an 80-percent free-throw shooter. Jenkins got a hand on the ball, but never a full grasp because Silva poked it away and raced to the other end of the court. The Aggie found himself alone at the edge of the 3-point line but, instead of going for the tie, he decided to pass it to Mark Payne, who was under the basket even more alone. Payne cut the lead to one.
“We just weren’t strong and Silva got the ball,” Braswell said. “Yeah, that was a stressful situation.”
Jenkins redeemed himself though. He didn’t let anyone take the ball from him in the next possession and made two free throws to give CSUN its ultimate margin of victory. UC Davis had a chance at the tie, but the Matadors tightened up defensively and forced a breakdown on the play. All the Aggies got was an off-balance attempt from Kyle Brucculeri, which bounced off the side of the rim as time expired.
“Win by one or win by 20, a win is a win,” said CSUN’s Rob Haynes, who scored 18 points.
Silva, a sophomore who doesn’t even average five points a game, was a one-man wrecking crew in the second half, which is where he scored 14 of his 19 points. The guard drilled four 3-pointers. All of them seemed to be wide open, perhaps the result of the zone defense Northridge went with in the second half.
“(Silva) was just lingering around the three-point line,” Jenkins said. “He was tough to find.”
While the Aggies’ strength was their 3-point shot on this night, CSUN utilized its inside game. It worked well. Townsend shot 11-of-15 from the field, including a triple, and had a career-high in points.
The big night laid by Townsend came almost by default given that leading-scorer Deon Tresvant was unavailable against the Aggies. The guard and freshman Dallas Rutherford weren’t even in the building. Braswell did not clear up the reason for their absences. He said it was a “private matter.”
Without Tresvant, the scoring responsibility also went to Jenkins, and he tried to fulfill his duty. He attempted it 11 times, but was successful in only two of those occasions. Seeing how this game was just going to be a repeat of Friday night’s game against Pacific (where the point guard shot 2-of-12), Jenkins decided to pass more. He had 14 assists.
“I’m trying to get out of my slump,” he said. “But it seems that the more you try, the more it happens.”
The first half, where Braswell made his “grinding” prediction, was like a bucket of cold water to the Matadors. UC Davis rolled them into a seven-point hole (25-18) with 8:07 to go. It was inconceivable. How could these Aggies, who last season won only two games in the Big West, make the reigning league-champion CSUN look so mediocre?
“Well, they got guys that can really shoot it,” Braswell explained. “You got to give them credit for the closeness of the game.”
“We were very flat in the first half,” Braswell added.
The Matadors outscored UC Davis by 15 for the rest of the half. In the second period, CSUN were down by as many as three points. However, after Therin Taylor made a layup with 12:12 to go and put Northridge up 57-56, the Matadors never trailed again.
But the Aggies were on the verge of a breakthrough.
“It got a little too close,” Braswell said.