Josh Jenkins walked out of the locker room expressionless and alone, only with the pizza every team member gets afterwards to show for yet another night of offensive struggles. His last chance to redeem himself had gone up and rimmed out in the final seconds, ending the hopes of the Matadors (6-9, 3-2 BWC), who lost to Long Beach State 74-68 Saturday afternoon at the Walter Pyramid.
His backup, at point guard, Mark Hill – playing in his first game ever with CSUN – had earned the right to take his place in the rotation in the waning moments of the tight affair and responded by drilling back-to-back 3-pointers which cut the 49er lead to 69-66 with 1:42 to play. Just then, as a timeout was called, Hill, the hot man, was sent to the bench.
‘Mark was getting tired,’ Head Coach Bobby Braswell said.
Not playing in a real game for quite some time will do that even to a Division-I player. Jenkins went back in for Hill but couldn’t do much to change things thereafter. After T.J. Robinson of LBS put back a shot that missed the rim completely to make it a five-point game and Jenkins missed a 3-point attempt with 17 seconds left, the game had been decided.
‘I don’t know about that,’ Hill said when asked why he was taken out of the game for all but the last 12 seconds of crunch time. ‘(Jenkins) is just as good. He can make some big shots. It was Coach’s decision.’
Hill had missed more than he had made in the first half. It was a different story in the second period, though. The point guard made 3-of-4 3-pointers in the last 20 minutes of the game. One of those gave the Matadors the only lead they had in the second half.
That advantage, 56-55 with 7:30 to go in the game, disappeared in a blur (10 seconds). CSUN could have at least had multiple leads in this one, but it missed six of 13 second-half free throws, 12-of-24 overall.
And then, there was the beginning of the game.
‘Defensively, the first half was horrendous, absolutely horrendous,’ Braswell said.
The Matadors couldn’t stop Long Beach State in the first half and allowed it to shoot 55 percent from the field. Donovan Morris, perhaps the best player in the Big West, ate them alive and scored 15 of his 22 points in it. Perhaps it wouldn’t have been as bad if CSUN at least would have made a shot, but at 31 percent, it considered itself lucky to go into halftime trailing by only eight, 40-32.
‘We had to fight that much harder to make it back,’ center Tremaine Townsend said.
The second-half rally was fueled by Townsend, Hill and Kenny Daniels. Townsend ended up with a new double-double (12 points and 16 rebounds) while Daniels had 12 of his 15 points in the period. After Daniels threw one of his 3-pointers in to draw CSUN within two midway through the half, he pointed up at the stands, where Deon Tresvant ‘- the Matadors’ leading-scorer who hasn’t been able to play while clearing up off-the-court problems – was watching.
Whether Tresvant could have saved his team on this day is impossible to tell. What is a fact, though, is that the 49ers (5-0) kept CSUN at bay and are the undisputed first-place team in the conference.
First place is where the Matadors are supposed to end up at the end of the season and they have found a new weapon to help that cause. Their next game is at home on Wednesday, against the Titans, a team they already destroyed once and on the road.