March 15, 2009

Matadors Head to the Big Dance

March 15, 2009

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By Bob Vazquez, Assistant Athletic Director (Media Relations)

Anaheim, Ca. - Cal State Northridge is going to the Big Dance. March Madness has erupted on the Matador campus. The student body, alumni and fans of Cal State Northridge are rejoicing in unison.

As Cal State Northridge celebrates its 50th anniversary, the Matador basketball team has brought added attention to the school's year long celebration by earning a berth to the prestigious NCAA Tournament for the second time in its NCAA Division I history.

The Matador men's basketball team, faced with adversity both on-and-off the court in 2008-09, played like champions and champions they are. In one of the most dramatic, high-energized games in school history, Cal State Northridge recorded a 71-66 overtime victory over Pacific in the title game of the Big West Conference Tournament on Saturday night at the Anaheim Convention Center.

The Matadors defeated a Tiger team that has given them persistent headaches. In 21 previous meetings, Pacific had won 17 games, including two games this year.

Despite the fact the Matadors raced to what seemed to be an insurmountable 21-3 lead in the first half, the Tigers gradually sliced the Matador lead and tied the game at 42-42 with 11:01 left in the game.

Cal State Northridge upped its lead to 51-42 with 7:02 to play, but back came those pesky Tigers. Pacific fought back to within one point, 54-53, with 3:04 to play. However, Cal State Northridge refused to let Pacific take the lead. Cal State Northridge took a 61-56 lead with 1:19 remaining. It seemed like victory was just seconds away.

Again, three straight points by Pacific cut the Matador lead to two points, 61-59, with 60 seconds to play in regulation. Then with five seconds to play, UOP's Michael Kirby was fouled and hit two free throws to send the game into overtime at 61-61.

Once again, Cal State Northridge refused to collapse under Pacific's persistence.

In the overtime, Cal State Northridge played like champions. The Matadors took charge with a three-pointer by Rodrigue Mels to give the Matadors a 64-61 lead with 4:44 remaining in overtime. A lay up and a free throw by UOP's Bryan LeDuc tied the game. But a jumper by Rob Haynes, another three-pointer by Mels and two free throws by Mark Hill down the stretch gave the Matadors the win, the Big West Conference Championship, and the school's second berth in the NCAA Tournament.

Following the highly dramatic, nerve-wracking game that will go down in history as of the best games in school history, several hundred Matador fans stormed the court to congratulate the team. The post-game celebration also included a rich history in college basketball, the cutting down of the nets by each team member. Then the entire team and coaching staff marched in unison to the press conference.

"I am most blessed," said Matador head coach Bobby Braswell. "The team has never made excuses. They kept giving everything they had and now we have an opportunity to do something special (playing in the NCAA Tournament).

"Character - we have a saying: talent gets you to the top, but character keeps you there. The team showed the ability to beat the demands of reality."

Mels, who scored 23 points in the championship game against Pacific, was named tournament MVP. Mels scored a career-high 28 points the previous night in the semifinals against UC Santa Barbara.

Tremaine Townsend, who grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds against the Tigers, was also named to the all-tournament team along with Bryan LeDuc and Chad Troyer of Pacific, Josh Akognon of Cal State Fullerton and UCSB's Chris Devine.

Matador Memo
The NCAA Tournament "Selection Show" will be televised live on CBS at 3 p.m. (pt) ... The Matador team will get together at The Pub which is located at the Student Union on the Cal State Northridge campus ... CBS Sports will be there to get reaction live when Cal State Northridge is selected ... All fans of Cal State Northridge Basketball are cordially invited to join the team in the NCAA Tournament celebration ... The doors at The Pub will open at 1:30 p.m. ... Refreshments and food will be available ... Rob Haynes has done it again ... Haynes hit a three-pointer against Pacific to give him 28 straight games in which he has scored a three-pointer ... Haynes has now played in 118 games over his four-year career, only two short of the school record held by Jonathan Heard (2004-08).

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