The Highlander men’s basketball team fell short of tying their Division I conference record by losing to the Cal State Northridge Matadors, 83-76, on Saturday, Feb. 28. UCR is now 7-7 in conference, 14-14 overall, and are the fifth seed in the conference.
Saturday’s matchup was a test for the Highlanders as they were on the road, away from the supportive UCR students at the Student Recreation Center Arena. However, in the corner of the gym, 25 traveling UCR fans were spotted sitting behind CSUN’s cheerleaders, screaming in unison for their team.
UCR came into the game previously beating Northridge in January. The first possession, however, went to the Matadors as Stephen Maxwell attempted to layup the ball. UCR was prepared, as Taylor Johns recorded his first block of the game, which Jaylen Bland recovered. CSUN’s Maxwell then chased Bland and stole the ball back, but his teammate Stephan Hicks missed a three-pointer.
Bland scored the first Highlander points with a jump shot, but the Matadors responded with a three from Devonte Elliott. Johns then took the ball and tried to score on layup, only to be blocked by CSUN’s Elliott.
A little over a minute later, the Matadors’ Tre Hale-Edmerson took the lead back by scoring a three-pointer. The Highlanders would then tie and grab the lead after a jumper from Charles Standifer and a layup from Alex Larsson. They would maintain that lead for nearly 10 minutes, until Hicks threw in a slam with 4:48 remaining, bringing the score to 24-24.
A second later, Larsson took advantage of a foul from CSUN and scored two free throws. The Matadors then lost the ball, which Bland took and attempted to layup, but missed. That allowed CSUN’s Maxwell to score on two free throws, bringing the game to 29-28.
Charles Standifer of UCR then missed his jumper, which the Matadors took advantage of and scored two points, grabbing the lead with 1:55 remaining in the first half. UCR then took a timeout to recuperate. With a quick plan, Standifer took a shot but missed, which CSUN recovered. The Matadors then scored from a layup from Maxwell.
With 1:24 remaining, the Highlanders made their substitutions, which led to a three-pointer from Bland, off of an assist from Austin Quick.
Nick Gruninger then stole the ball with 21 seconds remaining, sending it to Johns for an impressive dunk. CSUN answered with a three-pointer from Ajon Efferson; however, UCR responded with a slam from Johns. Both teams entered the locker room tied at 36-36.
Coming into the game, the Matadors were known for their interior post play, yet made an impressive four of eight from beyond the arc, compared to UCR’s three of 11. However, UCR outscored the Matadors 14 of 30 (46.7 percent) in field goals, compared to CSUN’s 12 of 27 (44.4 percent) in the first half.
In the second half, CSUN scored six unanswered points in the first four minutes, bringing the score to 42-36.
UCR seemed off their mark in their first three and half minutes, missing four shots in a row.
The Highlanders finally put points on the board with a free throw, bringing it to 42-37. Once again, the Matadors scored a three immediately after to bring the score to 45-37.
Bland then drove in hard but was fouled, giving him a chance to add points to the board, and scored one, 45-38. Riverside quickly stole the ball, then scored two off a layup from Bland.
After CSUN’s two-point response, Larsson of UCR responded with a bucket, which brought the score to 42-47 CSUN. Larson missed, but UCR grabbed the ball back, leading to Johns making a layup but missing a free throw.
Gruninger brought the game back to six with a finger roll, and ended up at the line after being fouled on his next possession. He cut the deficit to 54-50, after his two free throws.
With 6:16 remaining, Johns made an and-one and converted on his free throw, bringing the game to within one possession.
Bland made two threes in a row with less than five minutes remaining to pull the contest to within two points, 68-66. Immediately after, Johns scored on his layup, which gave him his 1,000th career point and tied the game, 68-68.
The Matadors then scored four points off of free throws, which would give them a lead for the remainder of the game.
The Highlanders will play their final two regular season games as they prepare to travel to UC Davis on Thursday, March 5 and host Long Beach State on Saturday, March 7.