By Bob Vazquez, Assistant Athletic Director (Media Relations)
Santa Barbara, Calif. – The cheers from the Cal State Northridge locker room were loud and victorious.
This was a night for a hard-earned Matador victory over a tough UC Santa Barbara team. The final score turned in favor of Cal State Northridge, 75-69, in a Thursday night Big West Conference game that wasn't determined until the final seconds.
Cal State Northridge earned its first Big West Conference the hard way. They earned it.
The Matadors trailed by as many as eight points (56-48) with 11:04 to play in the second half.
With 9:23 left on the clock, and CSUN down by seven points, 59-52, the team could have easily folded its tent, but the Matadors refused to admit defeat.
The Matador defense forced UCSB to turn the ball over on seven straight possessions, leading to a 13-0 run. The energetic comeback gave Cal State Northridge a 65-59 lead with 5:01 left. CSUN's two top scorers, Stephan Hicks and Stephen Maxwell, propelled the Matadors during CSUN's late game team rally. Hicks tallied eight of his 24 points along with two steals while Maxwell added five of his career-high 27 points along with a steal.
"The team has been working extremely hard," said Matador head coach Bobby Braswell. "We had three of our best practices (this week) and I told them their hard work would eventually pay off. I told them I didn't know when it would happen but I told them they would be rewarded. And tonight was their reward (a Matador victory). I'm blessed that these guys hung in there. They kept their courage and their strength. This was a tough place (UCSB) to get a win on the road."
CSUN's second half defense forced the Gauchos into 15 of their game-high 18 turnovers. For the game, CSUN outrebounded UCSB, 43-31. Nineteen of CSUN's 43 rebounds were on the offensive end. Maxwell, who leads the Big West Conference in offensive rebounds per game, collected eight of his career-high 14 rebounds on the offensive glass.
"I told the team at half time that we had only forced them into three turnovers," said Braswell. "We picked up our pressure in the second half, and forced them into 15 turnovers. That was critical."
UCSB made the game interesting late. A three-pointer by UCSB's Michael Bryson cut the Matadors lead to only two points, 69-67, with 44 ticks on the clock. But two free throws by Josh Greene, and one each by Allan Guei and Stephen Maxwell sealed the victory, and gave the Matadors their first Big West Conference victory.
Cal State Northridge jumped to a 21-10 in the first half but the Gauchos battled back to take a 37-33 lead at the intermission.
Cal State Northridge is 10-10 overall and 1-7 in Big West competition. UC Santa Barbara fell to 7-11 overall and 3-4 in conference play.
"I'm blessed to have these guys because they haven't stopped working," said Braswell. "I told them we have been in a stretch called adversity. We had to fight through adversity. They did that tonight."
Matador Memo …
Stephen Maxwell continues to be a dominant force offensively and defensively for Cal State Northridge in recent weeks … Maxwell has been the team's leading scorer in six of the last seven games including career-highs in points (27) and rebounds (14) at UC Santa Barbara (1/24/13) … Maxwell has hit a double-double in the last three games and has six double-doubles in the last eight games … Maxwell is averaging 18.8 points and 10.6 rebounds per game during the last eight games … For the season, Maxwell is now averaging 14.8 points and a team-leading 8.4 rebounds per game … Cal State Northridge now travels to Cal Poly for a Saturday night game (1/25/13) in San Luis Obispo … Game time is 7:00 pm … The game can be heard on gomatadors.com with Bill Courtland and Alan Zinsmeister … Live Stats and Twitter coverage will also be available at gomatadors.