It was a perfect night from Taylor Johns and UC Riverside — from the free throw line. UCR’s men’s basketball star did not miss from the charity stripe, making all 13 of his attempts, and his team escaped a horrid first-half shooting performance to escape the Student Recreation Center Arena with a 66-62 win over the visiting Cal State Northridge Matadors. Free throws were the telltale statistic for the entire game as UCR attempted 34 to CSUN’s 12.
Johns, who casually scored 27 points on the night to lead both teams, broke the UC Riverside program record for most free throw attempts made without a miss, surpassing the previous mark of 11 set by Jason Labagh in the 1999-2000 season and Javon Borum in 2010-2011. The power forward was only shooting 65.2 percent from the line on the season.
Cal State Northridge raced to an early lead, scoring four unanswered to begin the contest before extending the advantage to seven points, 9-2. The Matadors led by as many as 11, which was aided by a 29 percent shooting performance by UCR in the half. Opening with CSUN’s starting point guard Landon Drew, the Matador perimeter players slashed and dashed to the basket uncontested as the team’s shooting percentage skied above 70 for the first 10 minutes of the game.
UCR began to commit to defense midway through the first half, drawing several offensive charges to work themselves back into the game. An 8-0 run by the Highlanders pulled UCR to within three points, 20-17. The two teams were separated by only two points heading into intermission, 31-29 in favor of the Matadors.
The home team only made two three-pointers out of 16 total attempts for the half, but forced CSUN into 11 turnovers, which they turned into 16 points. Johns led UCR with 13 points and seven free throws.
UC Riverside flipped the script in the second half as the Highlanders began to weather the storm of a poor shooting night. Jaylen Bland, who made two field goals on the night, knocked down a three-pointer, catapulting the Highlanders on a 7-0 run, which placed UCR ahead for only the second time of the contest. Outside of the Matadors’ only lead at 45-44, UC Riverside remained in control of the game, holding off the pesky team with 16 free throw attempts to win 66-62.
UC Riverside moved their conference record to 3-4 on the season. Bland joined Johns, scoring 10 points on the night for the Highlanders, who only shot 36.5 percent from the field. The Matadors’ leading scorers Stephan Hicks and Stephen Maxwell both fouled out of the game and only scored a combined 25 points.
UCR next hits the road to play against Long Beach State University on Thursday, Feb. 5.