Cal State Northridge Gives Memphis a Scare

The Memphis Tigers earned a number two seed in the NCAA tournament by winning 31 of their 34 games this season, and they probably weren't expecting much of a challenge from the 15th seeded, 17-13 Matadors from Cal State Northridge. But Northridge had a good game plan, and executed it well for most of the afternoon, before eventually losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by a score of 81-70.

Memphis came into this game fresh off of a Conference USA tournament title, which they won by playing in front of a loud arena packed with their own fans. The atmosphere for the opening game of the NCAA Tournament in Kansas City, however, was nowhere near as electric. The building was half empty for about three quarters of the game, due to the fact that tickets are good for the first two games, and fans weren't likely too excited about seeing a 15 take on a two in the opener.

In hindsight, they probably wish they would have shown up.

The lack of a playoff atmosphere contributed to Memphis's slow and sloppy start, which in turn built the Matadors' confidence as the game wore on, making this one a nail-biter well into the second half. Size was Memphis's strength coming in, so Northridge attacked it by continually driving to the basket on offense, and packing the paint with a zone on defense. Their offensive strategy worked, as Memphis found themselves in early foul trouble, with their three best players in Tyreke Evans, Robert Dozier, and Shawn Taggert all forced to the bench in the first half with two fouls.

The zone defense, however, wasn't as effective.

With the Tigers' starters on the bench, reserve guard Roburt Sallie was forced into action early, and he did not disappoint. Sallie averaged just 4.5 points per game during the regular season, but came in raining three-pointers, and had 17 of his team's 34 points in the first half. Sallie's career high coming into the game was just 13 points, but he shattered that by halftime and finished with 35 points on 12-of-17 shooting, while making a ridiculous 10 of his 15 three-point attempts.

The Matadors' attack was much more balanced, as they finished with five players in double figures. Northridge trailed by just three points at the break, and fell behind by five before rallying to take the lead on a three-pointer from Mark Hill with just under 14 minutes to play.

It was tight for the next four minutes or so, as the lead went back and forth before Northridge was able to get out in front by six with 10 minutes remaining. The building was beginning to fill up, and the crowd was starting to pull for the underdog Matadors.

But the size and overall talent of Memphis proved to be too much down the stretch. The Tigers put together a 14-2 run to seal the game, holding Northridge scoreless for over five minutes in the process.

Tremaine Townsend played big inside for the Matadors, and finished with 14 points and nine rebounds, while hitting on six of his eight field goal attempts. Mark Hill and Rodrigue Mels hit some timely shots, but overall were forced into a lot of tough looks by the Tigers' defense. The two combined for 28 points, but did so on just 8-of-25 shooting.

There are no moral victories of course, but all in all this was a pretty solid ending to what has been a turmoil-filled season for the Matadors. No one expected them to even make the tournament, much less give the two-seeded Tigers such a tough game in their first round matchup. But they were able to do both, and despite all the trouble that has surrounded the program this year, Bobby Braswell has to be pretty satisfied, all things considered.

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