Irvine — At times this season, it’s seemed that little has gone right for the Matadors: They lost their scoring leader in guard Deon Tresvant at the beginning of Big West Conference-play; their only four-year senior, guard Rob Haynes, had a scary head injury that caused him to miss two games; finally, less than a week ago, their assisting and emotional leader, point guard Josh Jenkins, was involved in a car crash that, as confirmed by Head Coach Bobby Braswell, has ended his season and college career.
There’s also been some right, of course. By having unassuming players rise to the opportunity, CSUN managed its way to the No. 1 spot in the conference ‘- where they were presumed to be all season long; and Jenkins, though not playing, will make a full recovery.
‘Right’ did not apply at any moment on Wednesday night for the Matadors (12-11, 8-4 Big West), though. They played their first game without Jenkins and lost it to UC Irvine, 73-51, at the Bren Events Center. The loss takes away their outright privilege of being No. 1 in the Big West. CSUN now shares that title with Long Beach State, which won at Cal State Fullerton last night.
‘From the beginning,’ CSUN forward Tremaine Townsend said. ‘It started out bad. It ended bad.’
CSUN fell behind in the first half by almost as many points as it had turnovers (15 and 14 respectively). Those first 20 minutes didn’t look so bad after the second 20, though. The Matadors’ hole grew to 71-43 with 7:17 to play. At that point, the unworried seventh-place Anteaters (9-17, 6-7) began to laugh and yawn.
It was somehow fitting that it happened that way. After all, the Matadors had done the same thing to UC Irvine back on Jan. 24, coincidentally the date in which CSUN started a now-lost-with-an-exclamation-mark six-game winning streak. The Matadors won 74-55 then.
What drastic change three weeks can make.
‘This was one of those games where you just burn the tape,’ Braswell said. ‘Just forget it.’
Things could have definitely started better for CSUN on Wednesday. With a couple of secure hands less to handle the ball (Jenkins’), the Matadors turned the ball over at a rate of over one per minute. They had five turnovers by the 15:48 mark. Then, UCI’s Brett Lauer gave them a little reminder of the 17 points he threw at them even in embarrassment back during his team’s away loss. Four early 3-pointers had him more than halfway into a repeat performance at the 10:44 first-half mark and CSUN down 24-11.
He hit his fifth three at the end of the half to send himself into the locker room screaming in excitement and the Matadors into shaking their heads, down 41-25.
‘The game was lost in the first half,’ Braswell said.
Lauer’s teammate, Michael Hunter, partied with him in the period. He scored 10 of his 13 points in it. Forward Eric Wise, decided to wait till the second half and scored 18 of his 20 points there.
Rodrigue Mels was the Matadors’ leading scorer with 10. CSUN shot 36 percent from the field and ended up with 23 turnovers for the game. UC Irvine only made 41 percent of its shots, but connected on 9-of-16 3-pointers (thanks greatly to Lauer’s 5-of-5).
Mark Hill, CSUN’s new starting point guard, had five points and five turnovers. Hill, who had said wanted to win the game for Jenkins, blamed the loss on himself.
‘I’m the point guard. I’m the leader of this team,’ he said. ‘I let Josh down.’
Not much of what CSUN showed Wednesday night could have made Jenkins proud. Likely, what’s best for them is to forget they ever came to Irvine.
‘We deserved to lose,’ Townsend said.
The understatement of the game.