Two more wins get you in

Alonso Tacanga

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CSUN forward Tremaine Townsend has seen the shot that helped the Matadors men’s basketball team clinch its first-ever Big West Conference outright regular-season championship. Courtesy of youtube.com, the senior now knows how lucky CSUN is to be heading into the conference tournament as the No. 1 seed.

‘We finally got what we deserved,’ Townsend said of UC Santa Barbara’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer on Saturday which sunk Long Beach State into its sixth conference loss of the season ‘- one more than the Matadors – and a No. 2 seed. ‘We hadn’t gotten a break all year.’

What was fortune to CSUN, which plays Friday at the Anaheim Convention Center, was depression to the 49ers. Up 75-73 with 6.8 seconds to go and defending a timeout-less UCSB, Long Beach State allowed Gaucho freshman Will Drew Jr. to run the length of the court unimpeded. He handed the ball to James Nunnally, who utilized all of his 6-foot-5 frame to get an unbalanced three-point shot over the outstretched arms of 5-9 guard Casper Ware. UCSB won 76-75, made itself the No. 4 seed and the Matadors the undisputed champions.

‘God is good,’ CSUN coach Bobby Braswell said laughing. ‘But our guys worked hard. They put themselves in position for something like that to happen.’

Goal one was reached: winning the regular-season championship. Goal two is in the bag as well: playing beyond the Big West Tournament ‘- CSUN will participate in either the NCAA Tournament or the NIT. Goal three might be the most daunting for the Matadors despite being the favorites. Northridge wants to win a game at the Anaheim event. It hasn’t done it in four years. If CSUN wins its semifinal match, it’ll play in the final on Saturday at 9 p.m.

Being a high seed doesn’t guarantee anything. CSUN was placed in the No. 2 slot last season, skipped preliminary rounds directly into the semifinals and was bounced out in day 1 without much resistance. Cal State Fullerton, then the third seed, was the executor.

‘It was a learning experience,’ said CSUN senior guard Rob Haynes, whose past three seasons with the Matadors have coincided with the post-regular season futility. ‘We’ll be ready to play this time.’

There is reason to believe the Matadors can get beyond one game this time around. Besides being the No. 1 seed, which makes sure they don’t face either the dangerous 49ers or the Matador-torching Tigers right away, CSUN has overcome everything it’s been thrown at it. It rose to the top after losing its leading scorer Deon Tresvant and stood tall following starting point guard Josh Jenkins’ car accident that ended his season.

Juniors Kenny Daniels and Mark Hill and senior Rodrigue Mels were three of the Matadors who had a few more spoonfuls of responsibility added to their plates with the unforeseen personnel shortage.’ Daniels has averaged 16 points in the last five games. Hill is averaging 10.8 points over the same span.

Mels, who has turned into the go-to sixth man, turned himself into a point guard to provide depth at the position. The senior was there last season along with Haynes and Townsend when the Titans got out to a big lead and cruised all the way to an almost-season-ruining loss. Braswell went on to say he had feared having two byes might have played against his favor. Fullerton had played the night before and beat UC Riverside. The Matadors’ rust helped kill their chances.

Braswell’s words weren’t meant as a justification. After all, if the result had been different, then maybe credit would have gone to the team’s freshness. Titans’ coach Bob Burton would have said his team was tired.

‘We won’t make excuses,’ Haynes said.

The Matadors won’t know who their rival will be until late Thursday. It could be the red-hot, help-granting Gauchos, winners of seven of their last eight games, or the Aggies, who the Matadors obliterated by 27 at Davis.

‘We’re staying focused and hungry,’ Haynes said. ‘Our season’s not over.’