Matadors ride Osunsanmi to win

Alonso Tacanga

CSUN Head Coach Bobby Braswell didn’t want to hear it Friday night.

The only word acceptable in his vocabulary at the moment was: Tony.

‘I told the guys I’m going to try to find four other Tonys somewhere in that locker room,’ he said.

And finding all those Tonys – clones to CSUN forward Tony Osunsanmi – wouldn’t be bad at all considering the turnout of the Matadors’ first regular-season game: a should-have-never-been-close 73-62 win over Division III-member Cal Lutheran at The Matadome. The 6-foot-4 forward got them out of a nightmare of a debut with pure strength and effort.

‘He was the best player on the floor tonight by far,’ Braswell said.

CSUN was in a surprisingly tight affair against the modest Kingsmen until Osunsanmi was called on by his coach. His mere seven points for the game signified little of what he meant to the Matadors on this night. The junior was all over the place. He lived in midair, the result of attempting to grab every miss off the rims. He lived on the floor, the result of countless leaps towards every loose ball that even remotely crossed his path. He grabbed 14 rebounds. Nine of those came in the second half and all but one were offensive. He, as Braswell put it, had ‘the biggest heart in the world.’

‘It’s just my role, to defend, to rebound,’ said Osunsanmi. ‘To be the Energizer Bunny on both ends of the floor.’

The Kingsmen were the ones energized in the beginning, though. They entered Northridge loudly, yelling and making a fuzz as if they seriously thought they could beat the Division I, Big West Conference-top-ranked Matadors. Their positive thinking took them far, however.

Cal Lutheran just wouldn’t get off CSUN’s tail in the first half. They seemed to have a rope around them and yanked them back every time Northridge looked liked it could get away. The Kingsmen even led 32-31 going into halftime.

The story didn’t stay the same for long in the second half . With 14:11 left to play and CSUN leading 41-37, Braswell called a timeout. Music boomed through The Matadome at that point as cheerleaders tried to get the 1,022 fans attending the game back into it. The song wasn’t loud enough to drown out the coach’s voice as he got his point across to the Matadors, though. It wasn’t quite clear what he told them, but whatever it was, it worked.

With the help of three Osunsanmi offensive rebounds and back-to-back Matthew Wallace three-pointers – the second one assisted by the junior – Northridge went on an 18-8 run to finally distance itself from the Kingsmen.

Cal Lutheran did not get within single digits the rest of the way. Guard Kyle Knudsen led them with 16 points, but was held to just one in the second half.

‘(Osunsanmi) brought fire,’ said point guard Josh Jenkins, who led all Matadors in scoring with 16 points. ‘He brought that I-want-to-win attitude.’

Jenkins also had four assists and five steals, but committed seven turnovers – something that would have displeased Braswell enormously if he had cared about anything besides effort on this night. Braswell was empathic about how disappointed he was with everyone’s production. The only ones that saved themselves from a blasting were – obviously – Osunsanmi and starting center Tremaine Townsend, who opted to sit out the game after tweaking his ankle Thursday.

‘There was nobody else on this basketball team that gave us the kind of effort or played the kind of game that we needed them to play,’ said Braswell. ‘I don’t care about points or anything else. Nobody came close to playing the way we needed to play tonight.’

‘I am not happy with their effort.’

Down one of their big three, the Matadors tried to get their remaining two – Jenkins and Deon Tresvant – going offensively early. Jenkins was successful – although Braswell would certainly disagree – and had nine first-half points, but Tresvant couldn’t buy a bucket. The senior only made one of his seven shot attempts in the half and ended up 1-for-11 for two points.

‘It was just one of those days,’ he said. ‘Every player goes through them.’

The Matadors held the Kingsmen to 34.5 percent shooting for the game and outrebounded them 47-39. They shot only 42 percent themselves.

‘We’re not as good as we think we are at this point,’ said Braswell. ‘That’s probably the biggest thing. This basketball team thinks they’re a lot better than they are. They think that they can just go out on the floor and play and good things are going to happen.’

Braswell’s game analysis for this one: They got bailed out against a D-III team by an undersized, but spirited player who understands his role.

It worked this time. If it happens again at Stanford Tuesday, Braswell might just need a cloning machine.