Santa Barbara — Vincent Cordell had gotten the first start of his young Matador career and proceeded to reward Head Coach Bobby Braswell and point guard Josh Jenkins’ trust in him by mishandling a perfect first-half pass and letting it turn into a Gaucho possession.
“(Cordell) missed one of my passes,” Jenkins would say later. “He said, ‘that’s my fault,’ and I said to him, ‘don’t worry, I’m going to come back to you, so be ready.’”
And thanks to Cordell’s readiness, Jenkins was able to win two matches Thursday night: one against the loud Gaucho fans, who decided to select Jenkins as their favorite target of harassment, and one – the most important – against the actual Gauchos, 72-70, at the Thunderdome. Jenkins danced into the heart of the UC Santa Barbara defense in the waning moments of the game, handed the ball to Cordell, who was standing all alone under the basket, and the prepared junior made what turned out to be a game-winning layup with 11 seconds to go.
UCSB tried to go for the win after, but Jordan Weiner missed a 3-pointer with three seconds left and D.J. Posley’s near-midcourt heave off the offensive rebound wasn’t close close and CSUN (8-10, 5-3 BWC) was able to breathe easy and celebrate the modest, but tough win.
“This is going to give me a lot of confidence,” Cordell said.
His game-winner was his only make of the night. How did he get that open?
“I can’t give the play away,” he said with a smile.
The Matadors, playing without their leading scorer (guard Deon Tresvant) again, weren’t in position to give anything away on this night and, for the most part, they complied with the goal. However, they lost another key player to a scary injury. Starting guard Rob Haynes had to be helped off the court wearing a neckbrace after he dove for a loose ball and apparently hit his head early in the first half. The postgame diagnosis was a concussion and that he’d be fine. In the game, though, his absence meant a great hit to the Matadors’ already-thin lineup.
Haynes was taken to a local hospital. In a way, though, he never left the building. The Matadors had him present all the way down to the moment the final buzzer sounded.
“In the huddle, they just kept saying, ‘let’s do this for Rob,’” Braswell said.
Rodrigue Mels took the huddle message to heart. The reserve guard scored eight of his 13 points in the grueling second half. His steal with two minutes to go turned into the last two of his points and gave CSUN a three-point lead. He, along with forward Tremaine Townsend (13 points and nine rebounds) and guard Kenny Daniels (14 points), was one of the Matadors that knew someone had to step up.
“We had to get this win for Robbie,” Mels said.
The pesky Gauchos, who were led in scoring by forward Chris Devine (16 points) and guard James Powell (14 points), would manage to tie it, 70-70, following a free throw from Jaimé Serna with 43 seconds to go. Then, CSUN milked time and had its point guard dish some trust back into a first-time starter for perhaps the easiest basket of the night.
A minute or so later, Jenkins was dishing something else to the Thunderdome’s student section, who had gone from calling him “fat” to nicknaming him “Gary Coleman.” Jenkins “respectfully” gave a last look at the crowd of more than 3,000 and gave them a winner’s good-bye wave.
“I thought it was a bad joke,” said Jenkins, who stands at 5-10 and weighs about 185 lbs. “But it was just so funny because they kept chanting it.”
For 39 minutes and 49 seconds, it was a good laugh. Then, it was time to frown.