They don?t believe in Saints

Alonso Tacanga

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In their first exhibition game Nov. 1, the Matadors held the opposition to 29 percent shooting from the field. Saturday night, they were bettering that, but Carroll College was still just within three points in the second half.

Then they found their stroke and it was game over.

The Matadors used a second-half offensive explosion, had a 24-1 run to put away the fumbling and bumbling Fighting Saints, and cruised to an easy 71-52 win Saturday night at the Matadome.

The victory wrapped up exhibition play. Northridge, a preseason favorite to win the conference, finished 2-0. They open the regular season Friday against Cal Lutheran at home.

CSUN was doing its part on the defensive side of the game in this one, but offensively it wasn’t pretty. They were still up comfortably, though. That was until the Matadors relaxed. The Saints got a couple of shots to go down and, after a Josh Saunders’ three-pointer, cut what once was a double-digit deficit to 33-30.

‘(The Saints) made their little run because we took a break off defense,’ said Matador guard Deon Tresvant, who led CSUN with 19 points. ‘We saw them gaining up on us so we told each other we had to buckle down and get tight on our defense. That’s what we did and we jumped out to another lead.’

To counter the insolent Saints’ surge, the Matadors scored 14 unanswered. Only a free throw by Andy Garland, who led Carroll with 14 points, cut into the midst of CSUN’s will-finishing run. Reserve Rodrigue Mels had all eight of his points in it. The lead ballooned to 26, 57-31, with 8:45 left to play. Finally, guard Chad Vaculin was able to get his Saints back on the scoreboard with a layup.

Carroll got within 15 points with 3:43 to go in the game. That was the closest they’d get the rest of the night. Northridge held them to 20 percent shooting from the field, only 15 percent from beyond the three-point line.

The Matadors acknowledged that while the defense was sure to satisfy Head Coach Bobby Braswell, who’s notoriously hard on his players about being active while guarding their opponents, turnovers was going to be a topic of discussion come next practice.

‘I was turning that ball over a little bit too much,’ said point guard Josh Jenkins, who had five of the Matadors’ 24 turnovers for the game. ‘A lot of the plays I was seeing weren’t developing like I wanted them too’hellip; my decision-making was just bad tonight. It was off.’

It wasn’t just turnovers, though. It was also fouling, giving up too many free throws. After their first exhibition game of the season, an 82-49 home thrashing of La Verne, Braswell spotted that as one of the main flaws in CSUN’s game. Saturday night it wasn’t any different. Not only did the Matadors send the Saints to the line 32 times, they also had to play without two of their stars in the first half due to foul trouble. Center Tremaine Townsend and Jenkins combined to play just eight out of a possible 40 minutes in the half.

‘Being in the post, it’s a little tougher (not to foul),’ said Townsend. ‘ You’ve got to try to be in the right position, read the player, read the post defender.’

Without two of their three core players, Northridge struggled to score to begin the game. Carroll wasn’t any better. The Saints took almost eight minutes to get on the scoreboard, and that was thanks to a free throw. With CSUN leading 8-2, the remaining core Matador took charge of getting CSUN going offensively. Tresvant made back-to-back three-point baskets to put Northridge ahead 14-2 as Carroll looked for refuge in a timeout.

‘The coaches told me to take my time on the wings and let the plays develop and that my shot would slowly come home,’ said Tresvant. ‘I was patient and I was able to get shots.’

The Saints had to wait until the 7:18 mark for their first shot to go down, a layup by Garland. It was an ugly half, probably uglier than Carroll’s jerseys. CSUN went into halftime leading 31-22 and shooting 44 percent from the field. By game’s end, it was up to 49.

‘We were rushing things. It was sloppy,’ said Jenkins, who dished out seven assists. ‘But in the second half we recuperated, things started developing. We took charge of that.’