Mike O'Quinn's finest hour--actually a grueling two hours 45 minutes--kept Cal State Northridge even, and the free-throw shooting of his teammates put the Matadors over the top in overtime.
O'Quinn set a Big Sky tournament record with 39 points and had a career-high 15 rebounds, including one with 12.5 seconds to play that cemented Northridge's 104-98 victory over Eastern Washington on Thursday night in a first-round game.
Sixth-seeded Northridge (12-15), which advanced to the tournament final last season on the strength of two upsets, will play top-seeded Northern Arizona in a semifinal tonight at 8:05 p.m.
After O'Quinn's layup early in overtime put Northridge ahead for good, Jeff Parris made four of four free throws and Lucky Grundy made six of six. Two more by O'Quinn after he was fouled on the last rebound gave the Matadors 17 straight and 12 in a row in overtime. Two free throws by center Kevin Taylor with 13.9 seconds to play in regulation enabled the Matadors to lead, 83-80, but Eastern Washington guard Shannon Taylor made a fallaway three-pointer with two Matador players in his face with 5.2 seconds left to force overtime.
Shannon Taylor, a junior transfer from Ventura College, made seven three-pointers and scored a career-high 28 points. Eastern Washington's Karim Scott also scored 28.
"Every time he shot, I said, 'Oh no, not again,' " Grundy said.
No doubt the Eagles (16-11) had similar comments every time a Matador stepped to the free-throw line.
"That is no time to be scared or cold," Grundy said.
Grundy, a senior walk-on point guard, was benched by Coach Bobby Braswell after he committed a five-second violation with two minutes left in regulation. He returned with 1:30 to play in overtime only because Kevin Taylor and Brian Heinle had fouled out.
O'Quinn played 43 minutes, including the last 32. Midway through the second half Braswell asked him if he could go all the way in the thin Flagstaff air, and O'Quinn responded by giving his coach a high five.
It was the second display of exuberance for O'Quinn. With Northridge trailing, 45-39, at halftime, the senior greeted a frowning Braswell with a big grin in the locker room.
"I realized yelling and screaming wouldn't solve anything and we came out with a different attitude," Braswell said.
O'Quinn had 19 points at the break and despite the score was already brimming with confidence.
"There was a confident air in the locker room," O'Quinn said. "We all knew we had the talent to win."
O'Quinn, a small forward who leads Northridge with a 15.6 scoring average, has played extensively at power forward since post player Jabari Simmons left the team for personal reasons four games ago.
The new position appeared natural as O'Quinn posted up Eastern Washington's big men and stepped around them for layups. He made 12 of 18 shots, 12 of 15 free throws and his rebounding helped Northridge to a 52-38 advantage, one of the only times Eastern Washington has been outrebounded all season.
Both Northridge freshmen stepped up as well. Guard Carl Holmes had 15 points and made three three-pointers, and Heinle, a 6-foot-9 center, had 14 points and eight rebounds.
But it was clearly O'Quinn's night.
"It was time to be a senior and time to step up and take a leadership role," O'Quinn said. "That did put a smile on my face."