Led by a unit of back-ups and walk-ons, the Cal State Northridge basketball team sprung to life Friday night.
Unfortunately for the Matadors, they still lost, 67-64, to St. Mary's in a nonconference game before 1,097 at McKeon Pavilion.
Northridge's Gerald Rhoden and Josh Willis each missed three-point shots in the final seconds, enabling St. Mary's (4-2) to hold on. Given the circumstances, though, Matador players and coaches were happy.
"This is the first time we have played as a team," said sophomore Lucky Grundy, who played 22 minutes. "We played together and died together, but we were together, and that's the best part."
The Matadors played without leading scorer Damion Morbley, whom Coach Pete Cassidy had left at home to take care of a pressing academic problem. Cassidy said Morbley's fall semester grades, which came in Friday, may create a problem for his eligibility.
Northridge also played the second half without point guard Trenton Cross, who injured his hand late in the first half on a scramble for the ball. He will have X-rays in the next few days.
The Matadors (2-7) began the game looking as bad as they had in most of their losses, playing soft defense and getting the ball inside on offense about as frequently as Halley's comet passes Earth.
Northridge trailed, 24-11, less than nine minutes into the game, and Cassidy became so frustrated he inserted a lineup of five reserves, including walk-ons Walter Jefferson, Rod Stinson and Grundy.
The scrubs accomplished everything the starters could not and went on a 11-0 run, pulling Northridge within 24-22. As the reserves played, the starters stood in front of the bench with wide grins, pumping their fists.
Northridge's starters began filtering back into the game in the final five minutes of the half, and seemed energized. Eric Gray scored 11 points in less than three minutes. Grundy swished a three-pointer while falling backward to give the Matadors a 39-38 halftime lead.
With the reserves continuing to play for much of the second half, the Matadors increased their lead to as many as six.
St. Mary's came back with a 6-0 run in the final three minutes to hand the Matadors their ninth consecutive road loss. "I hope we can use this game as a jumping-off point," Cassidy said.