NORTHRIDGE — Robert Hill must be a quick study, and for that Cal State Northridge should be thankful.
The Matador basketball team may be 2-10 this season, but it is 1-0 this year because of some aggressive and heady play during the final minutes of what was a 90-72 victory over the University of Buffalo on Tuesday night in a nonconference game.
Hill, a sophomore who has occasionally been maligned for lack of floor leadership, was at the forefront.
Thrust into the heat of a competitive scrap with less than five minutes to go, he responded by sinking the shot of the game.
Hill's three-point basket with 3:49 to play sparked a 7-0 Northridge run and the Matadors went on to quickly make a rout out of a close game.
Hill entered after Andre Chevalier, Northridge's senior point guard, was forced to remove himself after re-injuring his right hand.
The injury, originally incurred last Thursday during practice, was aggravated with a little more than five minutes left. Chevalier, who scored 13 points and handed out seven assists, attempted to shake it off, but found that he could not control the ball on the dribble.
For Northridge, the timing could not have been worse. In the previous eight minutes, Buffalo (4-8) had trimmed what had been a 16-point Matador advantage to 67-63.
But instead of stalling, Northridge seemed to shift into a higher gear, scoring on its next 12 possessions.
"We had to turn it up and we did," said Brooklyn McLinn, who made four of six three-point attempts and scored 16 points.
"That's something we haven't been able to do all year."
McLinn also mused that he might deserve some credit for Hill's clutch performance. Over the weekend he loaned the sophomore understudy a book. Its title: The Mental Fundamentals of Basketball.
"I told him to concentrate on the chapters on shooting and momentum," McLinn said.
Is there not one on self confidence? Told that Hill said he was "scared" taking over for Chevalier, McLinn responded, "I'm glad he didn't say that to me. I probably would have told Coach to take him out."
Chris Yard, a 6-6 low post player, scored eight points in the final four minutes 19 seconds and finished with a career-high 30 on 13 of 18 shooting. He also had 10 rebounds as Northridge held a 49-31 edge on the boards.
Northridge Coach Pete Cassidy attributed Yard's big game to matchups. Buffalo's lineup was not much taller than that of Northridge, yet the Bulls decided to play Yard straight up.
"He was in a more open-court situation," Cassidy said. "They didn't double and triple down on him like a lot of teams do. When you try to guard Chris one on one you're asking for trouble, I think. He can beat most people one on one."
On the boards, Yard got plenty of support from Shawn Stone, who pulled down a career-high 15 rebounds.
Stone's play inside was of particular importance because the Matadors were without Shane O'Doherty, their 6-11 backup center. O'Doherty has a sprained right ankle and is questionable for Saturday's game at UC Irvine.
Chevalier is questionable as well. Cassidy said his hand will be examined this morning.
His health is of primary concern because the Irvine game marks the start of seven consecutive road games to finish out the month.