Four years, nine games and plenty of anguish at the hands of the Pacific Tigers was more than enough for the CSUN Matador men’s basketball team.
The Matadors started their final push for a top four seeding in the upcoming Big West Tournament by grinding out a 76-73 win over Pacific at the Matadome Saturday afternoon. The win was the Matadors’ first over the Tigers since Curtis Slaughter’s 24 points, Ian Boylan’s 18 points and Chris Davis’ 12 points carried Northridge past Pacific, also at the Matadome, back on Feb. 8, 2003.
“I didn’t even realize it until one of our seniors said to the team that ‘I’ve never beaten Pacific since I’ve been here,'” head coach Bobby Braswell said. “It was nice to do this for our seniors. I thought our guys played well throughout the entire game.”
Before the game, the Matadors honored its four seniors on the team; Shewmake, Keith Everage, Terrell Jones and Austin Waggener. In addition to the pre-game festivities, all four seniors were given the start by Braswell.
Junior forward Calvin Chitwood led the Matadors with 19 points off the bench while senior center Thomas Shewmake was once again a factor, scoring 13 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. Junior forward Jonathan Heard contributed 16 points off the bench. Solomon HorseChief led the Tigers with 15 points; Michael White scored 14 points, C.J. Morgan had 13 points off the bench and Anthony Brown had 11 points.
“We knew it was going to be a war,” Heard said. “We knew they (Pacific) weren’t going to quit.”
Pacific led throughout the opening stages of the first half. The Tigers led 22-14 with 8:33 to go until the Matadors made their move, going on a 13-0 run over the next four minutes. Sophomore guard Rob Haynes tied the game at 22 with a three-pointer at 6:13 and a Jones triple at 5:48 gave CSUN the lead and a 20-foot jumper by Chitwood capped off the run. CSUN eventually took a 33-26 lead into the locker room.
CSUN held on to its lead throughout the second half. The Matador lead grazed double-digits several times, the largest at 52-38 with 10:38 though Pacific kept themselves under the radar from that point on. The Matadors’ last double-digit lead was 68-57 with 3:46 to go, but the Tigers then went on a 10-1 run, punctuated by back-to-back HorseChief to get the lead down to 69-67 with 1:47 to play.
However unlike past years against the Tigers, the Matadors got back up and answered the call. A pair of C.J. Morgan free-throws got the lead back down to two and Pacific forced a turnover on CSUN’s next possession.
The Matadors caught a break when HorseChief threw the inbounds pass away, and Heard tracked down the loose ball and took it all the way for the dunk. Northridge got a defensive stop moments later when Chitwood blocked a Tiger layup from behind with 34 second left. HorseChief scored a second later, the Tigers fouled junior guard Rai Colston, who made both free throws. HorseChief was fouled with 16 seconds left and also made both free-throws.
Pacific immediately fouled Chitwood with 14 seconds left and Chitwood split the free-throws, giving the Tigers one last chance to force overtime, but instead of shooting a three, HorseChief drove in for two hoping to draw a foul on the shot attempt.
HorseChief, however, not only didn’t get fouled, but also missed the layup with a second left, Chitwood secured the rebound and after the final buzzer sounded, CSUN’s “Red Rally” section stormed the court in celebration.
“We had a couple letups, but I felt, as a team, we came together and really clamped down on our defense,” Heard said.
CSUN shot 47 percent from the field compared to Pacific’s 46 percent. Pacific though missed those shots when it counted the most. Northridge also went 6-12 from the three-point line and also shot 60 percent from the field in the second half.
Though there are still two more games left in the regular season as well as the Big West Tournament, seniors Everage, Jones and Shewmake took some time to reminisce about their times at Northridge.
“I’m excited that we’ve made it this far,” Everage said. “I’ve had a great experience educational wise and athletic wise.”
Jones was a walk-on his freshman year at CSUN, but proved he belonged, as he earned a scholarship and developed into one of the Matadors’ main weapons.
“It’s been a blessing,” Jones said of his experience. “Coach Braswell gave me a chance, gave me an opportunity to play, and I’m just enjoying the fruits of our labor.”
For Shewmake, who has turned it around after battling injuries last season and this season, his experience at CSUN was well worth all the ups and downs.
“Everything has a way of balancing itself out,” Shewmake said. “No matter how hard it’s been, it’s been a really good experience overall,”
The Matadors will continue their bid for that top four seeding on Thursday when it travels to San Luis Obispo to face the Cal Poly Mustangs at 7 p.m., then to UC Santa Barbara to face the Gauchos Saturday evening at 4 p.m.
The Matadors’ match up with the Gauchos will be televised on Fox Sports Net Prime Ticket.