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VALLEY/VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Matadors Lose Grip Down Stretch Again

College basketball: After two conference road losses, Northridge falls at home to Montana State, 86-77.

January 09, 1998|STEVE HENSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORTHRIDGE — Cal State Northridge was back in familiar surroundings, and, indeed, it was home sweet home for a long stretch Thursday night against Montana State.

But what appeared to be a homespun victory in the making spun out of control in the last six minutes and the Matadors took their third straight Big Sky Conference loss, 86-77, in front of 718.

The Matadors, tenacious in building a 57-47 lead with 14 minutes to play, turned tight and tentative down the stretch. And as the Northridge offense slowed to a drip, Montana State countered with a sprinkle--junior guard Danny Sprinkle.

Sprinkle scored 22 of his game-high 27 points in the second half and capped a 16-0 run with a reverse layup and two free throws to give Montana State a 63-57 lead with eight minutes to play. Sprinkle made 8-of-11 shots, including four-of-five three-pointers, and hit all seven of his free throws.

"Our team played extremely hard, but when Montana State elevated its game to a higher level in the second half, we did not elevate our game along with them," Northridge Coach Bobby Braswell said. "Sprinkle was phenomenal in the second half. That was the type of taking charge down the stretch we aren't getting."

It was the first home loss for Northridge (4-9, 0-3) after three victories. The Matadors are 0-7 on the road and 1-1 on neutral courts.

After the Bobcats' surge, the Matadors answered for a short time behind Mike O'Quinn, who gave Northridge a 64-63 lead on a three-point play, a layup and an assist on a dunk by Jabari Simmons.

But Montana State (11-3, 3-0), which made 20-of-24 free throws in the second half, hit seven in a row in the next minute to retake the lead. Sprinkle scored eight straight Bobcat points on two three-pointers and a jump shot to put the game away, 81-72, with three minutes left.

"That was the best defense I've gone up against. They overplayed me all night," Sprinkle said. "I had to get my shots off quick, but my teammates got me the ball at the right time."

Meanwhile, the Matadors stopped doing what had kept them ahead for the first 30 minutes--punching the ball inside to forwards Jeff Parris and Simmons. Besides a three-pointer and a layup by guard Lucky Grundy in the final, frantic 1:23, Northridge made only one basket in the last five minutes.

"Our team is missing a takeover guy at the end," Braswell said. "Not necessarily somebody who has to score all the points, just a leader."

O'Quinn scored 18 points and Simmons had 16. Parris scored 15--all in the first half--but he developed muscle cramps after playing a season-high 33 minutes.

Parris and Simmons were busy trying to keep up with Montana State senior forward Damon Ollie. Ollie, a three-time All-City Section player at North Hollywood, scored 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting and had a game-high 12 rebounds.

Northridge led the entire first half, taking an 8-0 lead. A layup by O'Quinn following a steal put Northridge ahead, 28-18, with 9:20 left, and gave the Matadors their first double-digit advantage since a victory Dec. 6 over Loyola Marymount.

Northridge led 41-35 at halftime.

Matador notes

Junior forward Brian Hagens, a transfer from New Orleans, is indefinitely suspended for "academic reasons and not adhering to team rules," Coach Bobby Braswell said. In seven games since becoming eligible, Hagens has been disappointing, averaging three points and two rebounds.

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