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Late game heroics not enough as Matadors fall in OT

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Despite an incredible buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Lamine Diane that sent the game into overtime, the men’s basketball team lost to Yale 94-90 on Saturday night in their final game before the conference play.

The Matadors started with a lot of intensity, forcing the Bulldogs into multiple poor possessions which led to eight turnovers in the first half, helping CSUN to a 4-point lead going into halftime.

The Bulldogs would not go down easily though and came out firing in the second half, hitting 53 percent of their field goals after being held to 40.7 percent in the first half.

The Matadors, though, would continue to apply pressure and make big shots, fighting back and forth with the Bulldogs up to the last seconds of regulation.

With two seconds left on the game clock and CSUN trailing by three, the Matadors had one last chance to tie the game and send it to overtime, but to do so they would have to inbound the ball and get it all the way across the court to be in a position to get a shot off.

Graduate transfer Cameron Gottfried inbounded the ball and threw a lobbed pass to Diane, who caught the ball about 10 feet past the 3-point line, turned around and drained a miracle 3-pointer with two guys draped all over him.

“I don’t really know,” Diane said about what went through his mind after making that shot. “I was going crazy. I was just happy.”

With the game tied and going to overtime, the Matadors had been given a lifeline, but it would all be for nothing as Yale gained an 8-point lead with less than a minute to go. The Matadors would make a run at the very end, but the Bulldogs walked away with a 4-point victory.

“We got to execute a little bit better on both ends of the floor,” coach Mark Gottfried said. “Defensively, I thought we had one or two breakdowns. We got to get a rebound in crunch time that we didn’t get. And then offensively when the game was on the line we really got to execute what we’re trying to run offensively. At times we did it really well, other times not so well. But we’ve certainly been in a position to win some games, and our kids are playing extremely hard. We just got to get over the hump.”

It was an interesting game for the Matadors, who have yet to find a consistent rotation, with coach Gottfried instead choosing to ride with whoever has the hottest hand to lead the way each game.

In this one, junior transfer Rodney “Rocket” Henderson had his best game in a Northridge uniform, recording a season-high 23 points in 35 minutes, adding five rebounds and three steals in a big performance off the bench.

“Basketball is a fun game. To be able to play the game of basketball at a great institution like Northridge, you can’t beat it,” Henderson said. “We have a great atmosphere here, great coaches, so we never take this for granted. Any time we get a chance to go out there and play the sport we love, it’s fun.”

Sophomore Terrell Gomez was not at his best but still poured in 23 points and dished out four assists.

Diane had his usual all-around performance, recording a season-high 35 points to go along with 15 rebounds, four blocks and four steals in a season-high 43 minutes, which is made even more impressive when the fact that he was playing with a broken ligament in his hand is taken into account.

“This game, I tore my hand ligament, so I was hurt, and it was in my head, so … I guess I played hard at the end and tried to get to my game,” said Diane. “We would have liked to have the win, but it didn’t happen.”

Matadors set for conference play

The Matadors head into conference play with an underwhelming record of 6-10, but having played a tough non-conference schedule, Gottfried believes that his team is prepared to fight for the Big West title.

“We’re getting better. You look at where we started and where we are; we’ve played a really hard non-conference schedule for our team, and it’s made us a little bit better,” Gottfried said. “Now it goes to the record 0-0 going into the league. Our guys have seen a lot. They’ve been tested. They’ve been challenged. I think we’re a lot better than where we started. We just don’t have as many wins as we’d like to have.”

While their record is not where they would like it to be, the Matadors can take solace in the fact that they have two of the most prolific scorers in the conference.

Diane has surprised everyone, leading the conference with 24.3 points per game, also good for eighth in the country, and 11.1 rebounds per game while Gomez is third in the Big West with 18.4 points per game.

Freshman Darius Brown has also been a pleasant surprise, leading the Big West with 5.1 assists per game and second with 2.8 assists per turnover.

As a team, CSUN is pacing the Big West in points, averaging 77.8 per game, though they are also giving up the most, averaging 82.9 points per game.

With such polarizing numbers going in opposite directions, it’s hard to tell how CSUN will fare in the Big West this season, though if they have any plans to make a big showing, it will be up to the star freshmen to prove that they are ready to take the next step.

“We’ve had enough of those (close) losses, and now it’s good that we learned one more time before (the) conference,” Gomez said. “Now our conference is coming up next so … we can’t let any more of those get away from us. We’ve been here now. I feel like a lot of our freshmen are growing into sophomores now.”

The Matadors start up their conference schedule on Wednesday, Jan. 9 at Riverside for a 7 p.m. game being televised on ESPN3.

They will then head to Cal Poly for a 7 p.m. game on Saturday, Jan. 12 before heading home for a three-game stretch against Hawaii, UC Irvine and Long Beach State.

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