The CSUN Matadors (5-4) dominated the Southern Utah Thunderbirds (1-5) 84-57 behind a strong performance by junior forward Stephen Maxwell Tuesday night.
Maxwell reached a double-double in the first half and finished with 27 points and 13 rebounds for the game. Junior guard/forward Stephan Hicks had an efficient game, scoring 20 points on 6-7 shooting, and also reached the 1,000-point plateau in his CSUN career with his first two points of the contest.
“It means a lot,” Hicks said of the milestone. “I’m extremely blessed to get this opportunity to play (Division) 1 basketball. I just gotta continue to be humble, put hard work in practice and continue to be a good teammate.”
Freshman guard Trey Kennedy led Southern Utah with 17 points and three assists.
Maxwell started the game with CSUN’s first 10 points as the Matadors took an early 10-7 lead, but a 5-2 run by the Thunderbirds knotted the game at 12 apiece.
With the game tied, a Maxwell layup started a 10-2 run punctuated by freshman guard Aaron Parks diving for a loose ball which led to a Hicks 3-pointer to push the Northridge lead to eight.
The Matadors extended the run to 22-6 after junior forward J.J. Thomas rebounded a Southern Utah miss and passed the ball to Maxwell, who went the length of the floor and laid in a basket while getting fouled. The made free throw ballooned the CSUN lead to 18.
Just before the end of the half, Parks drove baseline and found Maxwell under the basket for a thunderous two-hand throwdown which gave CSUN their biggest lead of the half. A buzzer-beating jumper by Kennedy made the halftime score 45-28 in favor of the Matadors.
“Coach always talks about us being a hit-first team, and I feel like today it was the first day that we actually did that,” Maxwell said. “We gave them a punch first then after that, it was over for them. They had no fight in them.”
CSUN continued their impressive performance right from the start of the second half with three offensive rebounds in one possession and a putback layup by sophomore forward/center Tre Hale-Edmerson, giving the Matadors a 19-point lead with 18:31 left in the game.
Southern Utah was not able to get any closer than 17 points, and Northridge eventually built up a 32-point lead when Hicks converted a layup off a halfcourt lob pass from sophomore guard Landon Drew.
“Tonight, I thought they executed our game plan pretty well defensively, which I thought caused (Southern Utah) problems,” Theus said.
After a loss to the Fresno State Bulldogs in November, Theus said his team needed to be tougher and get to more loose balls. He felt they did that against the Thunderbirds, but still have room for improvement.
“I thought the energy level was very good,” Theus said. “There were still two 50-50 balls on the ground that we didn’t come up with, so it’s something that we’re going to have to keep talking about until we become 100 percent with 50-50 balls because those are game-winning plays. Those are inspirational plays, and a team needs those kind of opportunities.”
The Matadors will host the Seattle University Redhawks for a home game Thursday night at the Matadome.