Cinderella Watch: Cal State Northridge Makes a Statement to the Big West

December 30, 2008

Fullerton, Calif. -- Each year in the NCAA Tournament a talented, under-the-radar lower seed rises up and upsets a big-name, higher-seeded school. Monday night, two such teams with legitimate Cinderella potential opened Big West Conference play, as Cal State Northridge earned its first road victory by routing Cal State Fullerton at Titan Gym, 90-64.

The Northridge victory was powered by their excellent defense and accurate three-point shooting.

Cal State Fullerton has been led all year by star guard Josh Akognon, the number three scorer in the nation. The Titans represented the conference in the Tournament last year, and have hopes to return behind their solid corps of guards and swingmen.

Meanwhile, Cal State Northridge has been the preseason favorite to win the conference among the coaches and media. The Matadors return an experienced, senior-laden team that is well balanced both in the backcourt and on the frontline.

In the first half, Northridge opened with a stifling man-to-man defense that hindered the Titans’ ability to run their half-court sets. As a result, the Fullerton offense broke down at times, and players were forced to go one-on-one.

Titan Coach Bob Burton summed up the Matadors' defensive effort by saying, “It was men playing with boys. They defended great, and we weren’t ready for the type of toughness that they brought.”

The Northridge defense particularly keyed on the 5’11” Akognon, as 6’4” Rob Haynes aggressively overplayed and denied him the ball. When Akognon eventually did get some touches and attempted to run a few screen-roll plays, he was confronted by two defenders, and forced into giving up the rock.

Because of that tough defense, as well as three consecutive three-point buckets, Northridge quickly forged ahead to a 13-2 lead at the 16:02 mark.

Encouraged by their enthusiastic home crowd, Fullerton responded with 10-0 run of their own. The Titans hit 3 treys in that run, and cut the lead to 13-12 with 13:54 left in the half.

When Northridge point guard Josh Jenkins later drew his second foul at the 13:18 mark, it appeared that Fullerton would be poised to continue its run against the Matador second unit.

However, the Northridge reserves provided a tremendous lift and soon began to dominate the game. Northridge found itself up 28-14 with 7:21 left in half.

In particular, Northridge senior Deon Tresvant came off the bench and proved adept at playing either guard spot. When he ran the point in Jenkins’ absence, Coach Braswell had the luxury of bringing in some taller, skilled wings, like Rodrigue Mels, to play the 2 and 3. When Tresvant played off the ball with Jenkins at lead, he proved to be deadly from deep, knocking down 6 of 10 treys. Tresvant led all scores with 20 points.

Fullerton’s Gerard Anderson then took command and prevented the game from truly getting out of reach.

First, Anderson drew a foul in transition and converted both free throws. On the Titans’ next possession, he backed his man down and hit a short shot in the paint. The ensuing trip saw Anderson elevate for a sensational follow-up tip dunk in traffic. Anderson then made another spectacular bucket after slashing from the right wing for a hanging lay-in. Finally, Anderson single-handedly stopped a three-on-one break by stripping the rock from a Matador ballhandler, and then feeding Aaron Thompson for a transition layup and 35-24 score.

In total, Anderson accounted for 10 consecutive Titan points in that four-minute stretch.

Nevertheless, at halftime, Northridge led 40-24.

In the second half, Fullerton came out gunning. Freshman point guard Jacques Streeter nailed a three pointer, followed by two more threes from guard Marcio Lassiter. After Akognon hit another bomb from deep, and Lassiter made a transition layup, Fullerton had shaved the lead to 49-40 with 15:19 left.

Unfortunately for the home crowd, they would get no closer.

The Matadors responded decisively, displaying some toughness in a hostile road environment. They knocked down four consecutive treys on four straight possessions, and the lead grew to 65-42 with 12:30 left in regulation. At that point, the game was effectively over.

When the final buzzer sounded, Northridge had earned a 90-64 win.

The final numbers told the whole story, as Northridge shot 59% for the game. Even more impressive was their spot-on 63% shooting (14 of 22) from three-point land. The Matadors outrebounded the Titans, 41-31. They also had a 34 to 18 advantage in points in the paint.

Meanwhile, Fullerton struggled under their opponents’ defense, shooting a mere 36% from the field.

Akognon had an especially uncharacteristic performance, making only 3 of 13 shots for 8 points.

Burton noted that Akognon “got frustrated, and the other guys didn’t step up.  They took us out of what we wanted to do.  We just didn’t play together.”


1. The Matadors deserve to be conference favorites.

Guards Tresvant, Jenkins, and Haynes (18 points) all can light it up from deep. In addition, Jenkins proved to be a capable distributor, as he tallied 8 assists with only one turnover.

Furthermore, Northridge has excellent size on the interior. Forward Willie Galick had a double-double (17-13), and demonstrated strength and mobility inside. Forward Tremaine Townsend also has great agility and length. More important, both players have good offensive low-post skills, allowing Coach Bobby Braswell to run his half-court offense through them when things bog down.

Finally, Northridge is fundamentally sound. They defend well, and are patient on offense.

2. The Titans Are a Work in Progress

First, Fullerton’s defense must improve in order to compete in the conference. One area of concern is closing out on perimeter shooters.

Second, Fullerton has to find a way to improve on the glass. Of course, that is easier said than done, since the team is somewhat undersized. To alleviate the problem, the guards must make a greater contribution on the boards.

Third, the Titans will go as far as Akognon will take them. Because Fullerton has no low-post threat in their half court sets, they are reliant upon a perimeter-based attack consisting of screen-roll plays, dribble penetration, iso’s, and high post touches through Anderson. Because it can be difficult to score in this manner possession after possession against a set defense, Akognon’s three-point prowess becomes the great equalizer. They need to find a way to free him from the type of defensive attention he received from Northridge on Monday.

Despite the above-mentioned concerns, Fullerton does have a good guard corps, and that makes them dangerous in any one-game scenario come March.

Anderson is an exciting, high-flying 3, capable of filling up a stat sheet. Freshman point Streeter showed the ability to score from three point land, and should improve by year’s end. Lassiter also is a good shooter from deep, and is a solid player overall. Aaron Thompson (14 points) is another athletic wing who can provide bench scoring. Finally, there is Akognon, a player whose hot streaks can carry this team to another level.


1. Current Sacramento King and former Fullerton alum Bobby Brown was in attendance.

2. The game was Fullerton’s worst home loss in Coach Bob Burton’s tenure.

3. It was only Akognon’s fourth single-digit game of his collegiate career.

4. On his shooting prowess from the three-point line, Deon Tresvant said that he took “500 shots a night” the last few weeks to improve his stroke.

5. Burton praised the performance of the Titans' Anderson and Thompson, stating that they “were really competitive.”

6. Northridge improved to 4-7 overall, and 1-0 in the Big West. Fullerton fell to 6-7 overall, and 0-1 in the Big West. Both schools had tough, early non-conference schedules. Northridge had road losses at UCLA, Stanford, and New Mexico. Fullerton suffered early losses to LSU, Wake Forest, and Saint Mary's.

By Mike Elliott
Staff Editor for TheDailySportsHerald

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