Men’s basketball provides March madness in double-OT thriller

Aaron Lai/HIGHLANDER
Aaron Lai/HIGHLANDER

Prior to 7 p.m., this past Saturday had been a disappointment. Gloomy skies, rain and wind dominated the forecast as they had for the past week, resulting in the cancellation of one of the biggest events at UCR this year: the Heat Music Festival. However, those fans who decided to support the university’s 3-10 men’s basketball team in their matchup against the 6-8 Cal State Northridge Matadors witnessed a spectacle that would not soon be forgotten. The entire team gave a herculean effort in what turned out to be a marathon, back and forth, heart-stopping classic of a game, which resulted in a 106-105 double-overtime victory for the Highlanders.

With 24 ties and 29 lead changes, neither team had a solid handle on the game. In fact, neither team had a double-digit lead at any point in the contest. The closest the Highlanders got to an advantage was a seven-point lead off of an Austin Quick fast break layup with 7:22 to go in the first half, 26-19. The layup was two of Riverside’s 14 fast break points, compared to none for the Matadors. Northridge would cut the lead, however, drawing the game even at the half, 37-37, a trend that would continue for a majority of the game.

The second half started a little rocky for the Highlanders, with a few missed shots and a couple of fouls resulting in Northridge’s largest lead of the night, 51-59 with 11:37 left in regulation. However, some timely steals from Quick and Nick Gruninger lead to more easy fast break buckets, bringing the lead down to one, 61-60, with 9:53 remaining.

From the eight-minute mark on, neither team had a lead larger than three, and substitutions were common, as both teams tried to find fresh legs. UCR had a much better contribution from the bench, with Sam Finley and Quick leading the bench mob with 20 and 17 points, respectively, helping the Highlanders’ reserves outscore Cal State Northridge’s by 30.

Nothing could match the night of Chris Patton though, as the Aussie poured in a season-high 30 points and 11 rebounds. Few of his points were bigger than his layup with 58 seconds on the clock to put Riverside up by one, 81-80.

After a made shot that put the Matadors back in the lead, 82-81, all eyes were on Finley, who was fouled and put on the line. With thoughts of UCR’s free-throw struggles in the back of all 660 people in attendance, Finley calmly sank both shots, giving Riverside the lead once again with 26 seconds left.

A desperation three-point attempt on the other side was no good, but a foul was called on Patton on a putback attempt by Northridge’s Stephen Maxwell. Boos fell onto the court from all over due to the questionable call, but the ball doesn’t lie, and the Highlanders lived to see overtime thanks to a missed free throw by Maxwell, 83-83.

Gruninger played lights out in the first overtime, giving UCR the spark it needed to stay in the game. His layup in the first 30 seconds of the extra period tied the game up again, 85-85, and his three-pointer a minute later gave Riverside a three-point lead. With just under two minutes to go, he nailed two free throws to push the lead back up to three, 92-89 and with 45 seconds left stole the ball from Northridge guard Landon Drew. The ensuing possession resulted in a pair of clutch free throws by Finley to give the Highlanders a comfortable three-point lead, 97-94, with just 16 seconds left. However, the free throws were matched by an equally clutch three-pointer by CSUN’s Stephan Hicks, who sent the contest into double overtime, 97-97.

The final five minutes of the game exemplified what the game boiled down to free throw shooting, dominate performances and a little bit of luck. Patton continued to be a force, scoring five of the team’s nine points in the period, and grabbing two huge rebounds. Finley continued the trend of timely free-throw shooting for the night, knocking two more with 36 seconds to go, 104-103, making him a perfect 10-10 from the stripe.

After a Northridge miss, Quick was fouled immediately, and calmly knocked down both free throws, putting Riverside up by three with 18 seconds remaining, 106-103. These final moments played out eerily similar to the final moments of second half, with a last second three-point attempt by Northridge missing, but a foul was called on the putback.

Matador Aaron Parks made the shot as he was being fouled, cutting the lead to one with a second on the clock, meaning the continuation free-throw attempt could tie the contest and send the game into a third overtime. However, the free throw hit iron, and the Highlanders came out with a much-deserved victory, 106-105.

Following the instant classic, the men’s basketball team will now host the 4-10 UC Davis Aggies on Thursday, March 6, in a battle for eighth place in the Big West Conference standings.

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