With less than a month until the start of the 2006 Big West Tournament, the Cal State Northridge Matadors (9-12, 3-7 conference) seem to be taking steps backwards, as the team extended its losing streak to four games against the Titans on an 81-63 loss to the Cal State Fullerton Feb. 11 at Titan Gym.
The Titans, who improved to 11-10 overall and 4-7 in conference play, started the game as the aggressor, jumping out to the early 10-4 lead. Although CSUN was able to keep Fullerton’s lead to 10 points or less for the first 12 minutes of the game, the Matador shooting woes that periodically plague the team struck again. In fact, CSUN shot a dejected 0-for-7 from behind the arc in the first half and just 11-for-25 from the field.
“We have to cherish each possession we get,” said senior point guard Bakari Altheimer. “We need to be more unselfish offensively and move the ball better.”
Junior center Thomas Shewmake led the Matadors with eight first-half points, all of which came in the final 3:37 of the half.
With six seconds remaining in the first half, sophomore Jonathan Heard spotted up for a 20-footer that missed long. Shewmake, the only player to realize a few ticks were still on the clock, snatched the loose ball from the air and made an acrobatic put-back, ending the half on a positive note 39-28, in favor of the Titans.
In the second half, the Matadors’ defensive struggles began, as the Titans scored the first six points. As if the task of limiting the scoring of Brown was not challenging enough in the first half, CSUN had the stress of guarding the other Brown, the Big West’s new scoring leader, Bobby Brown in the second half.
Bobby opened up the second half with a long three-pointer that splashed through the net. On the Titans’ next possession, Jamaal Brown nailed a three-pointer of his own. Even though sophomore Calvin Chitwood made two free throws and a lay up, the Browns each found their ways to the hoop, widening the lead to 51-36.
As Matador head coach Bobby Braswell sat and observed his team losing both confidence and time, he called a much-needed timeout. Out of the timeout and down by 17, the Matadors seemed to be rejuvenated, going on a 7-0 run, reducing the Titan lead to 10 points with 12:39 to play.
The Matadors revitalized effort would not last, and CSUN’s struggles continued on both offense and defense. Jamaal Brown’s unrelenting force in the post gave the Matadors trouble throughout the game. Brown scored 15 points in the second half, finishing with a game-high 25 points on an astounding 12-15 shooting, as the Titans rolled over CSUN in an 18-point defeat.
“He lit us up,” said Braswell on the play of Jamaal Brown. “We didn’t front the post and he beat us inside anyway.”
The Matadors struggled in several statistical categories, but the difference-makers were the team’s 23 turnovers and 3-for-13 shooting from three-point territory.
Heard led the Matadors with 16 points, while Chitwood scored 14 points on 6-10 shooting. Shewmake also contributed 14 points and had a game-high seven rebounds. As a team, the Matadors recorded 11 assists for the game compared to 20 for the opposition.
“There weren’t really any positives to the way we played,” Braswell said. “We simply didn’t fight.”
When these two teams last met, junior Mike Efevberha tied CSUN’s scoring record for a single game with 39 points. Fullerton, however, won that affair 83-78 back on Jan. 7 at the Matadome.
In this game, Efevberha scored just five points on 2-for-5 shooting in 22 minutes. With Titan Bobby Brown’s 15 points, Efevberha’s once dominating chokehold on the scoring lead for the Big West loosened. Brown took over the late-season perch with 17.6 points per game, followed closely by Pacific’s Christian Maraker’s 17.5. Efevberha slipped to third, with 17.1 per game. Efevberha, however, has scored below his current average in nine of the last 10 games.
Through the Matadors present on-court struggles, the team is still confident they can close out the season on a positive note.
“We realize the conference is still up for grabs,” Altheimer said. ” We’ll hit our stride.”
The Matadors will face UC Davis (7-15) tonight in Davis at 7:00 p.m.
Matt Osias can be reached at email@example.com.