NORTHRIDGE — With five, now four games left in the Big West Conference regular-season men’s basketball schedule, it is essentially the stretch drive.
This news appeared to take UC Irvine by surprise on Saturday as the Anteaters saw a 16-point lead with 11:22 left slip away in an 81-75 loss to Cal State Northridge.
The Matadors (14-15, 6-7 in conference), used a 16-0 run in the final 4:14 to snatch victory from the jaws of another UCI road win.
The loss dropped the Anteaters (18-10, 9-3 in conference) into a first-place tie with UC Santa Barbara, which defeated Cal State Fullerton on Saturday.
UCI plays host to UCSB on Thursday at 7 p.m. The Gauchos handled the ‘Eaters, 80-60, on Jan. 30.
Cal State Northridge led by as many as eight in the first half, but UCI chiseled its way within 37-36 by intermission.
Then the Anteaters, who had won five straight games and 11 of their previous 13, used an 11-2 run to start the second half to gain control.
Freshman Luke Nelson, who was scoreless in five first-half minutes, scored 15 points in a span of 8:36, including four three-pointers, to put UCI up, 68-52.
But the Matadors, who knocked off UCSB, 80-78, in overtime on Feb. 15, went on a 9-2 surge to whittle the deficit.
After UCI’s Chris McNealy nailed a three-pointer from the corner with 4:27 left, the visitors were up, 75-65. But that was it for a UCI offense that produced two double-figure scorers.
Nelson, who made six of 12 field-goal attempts, including four of eight from threedom, finished with 17 points, all in the second half.
McNealy had 12 points, but the smaller, more-aggressive Matadors kept coming at the UCI big men. The aggression produced 43 free throws for the hosts, 38 of which the Matadors made.
Northridge, which made 10 for 12 from the foul line in the final 3:44, overcame a 38-24 disadvantage in points in the paint.
UCI also produced a 27-15 edge in bench scoring, but Northridge won that department, 13-3, in the second half.
Will Davis, a 6-foot-8 junior forward, had nine points and four rebounds in 22 minutes. He made four of five field-goal tries.
Mamadou Ndiaye, a 7-6 freshman center, had two points and three rebounds and was credited with only one of his three blocked shots before fouling out having played 24 minutes.
“I told our guys that Mamadou [who entered the week fourth in the nation with 85 blocks] is a problem if you allow him to be a problem,” Matadors Coach Reggie Theus said. “But he’s not a problem if you go at him. If he is going to block shots, make him block them. We shot 43 free throws and they played zone 90% of the game. What [this game] shows us down the road is that we can beat anyone. That’s what’s important.”
UCI shot 50% from the field and 52.9% from threedom (nine for 17), but was 10 for 23 from the foul line and was outrebounded, 35-30. Both teams committed 15 turnovers.
Stephen Maxwell led the winners with 20 points, followed by senior guard Josh Greene (17) and junior Stephan Hicks (16).
Big West Conference
Cal State Northridge 81, UC Irvine 75
UCI – Davis 9, Ndiaye 2, Nelson 17, McNealy 12, Young 8, Souza 8, Wright 7, Ryan 6, Best 2.
3-pt. goals – Nelson 4, Souza 3, McNealy 2, Wright 1.
Fouled out – McNealy, Ndiaye.
Technicals – None.
CSUN – Maxwell 20, Hicks 16, Hale-Edmerson 5, Greene 17, Thomas 8, Vozzola 11, Williams 2, Youmans 2.
3-pt. goals – Vozzola 3, Hicks 1, Thomas 1 .
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
Halftime – CSUN, 37-36.