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NCAA WEST REGIONAL

Memphis rallies to down Northridge, 81-70

Guard Roburt Sallie scores a career high 35 points and the second-seeded Tigers need all of it against the Matadors.

March 20, 2009|Jeff Barker

KANSAS CITY, MO. — One day, the Cal State Northridge Matadors will look back and savor what they accomplished this season with all that swirled around them.

But Thursday was a little too soon after their 81-70 loss to Memphis in the first round of the West Regional of the NCAA tournament. For the 15th-seeded Matadors, their emotions were still raw.

"We just had the idea we were going to win from the very beginning," said senior forward Tremaine Townsend, who was among five Matadors in double figures with 14 points.

Northridge, trying to become the fifth 15th-seeded team to topple a No. 2, hung in for most of the game against a Tigers team that had won 25 games in a row and hadn't loss since before Christmas. Memphis is now 32-3.

Northridge (17-14) led with under seven minutes to play and was within four, 72-68, with 2:30 to play.

"I felt confident in the beginning of the game and also when it was five minutes left," said junior guard Mark Hill, who had 13 points and six assists.

They lost largely because Memphis guard Roburt Sallie, who entered averaging 4.5 points a game, made 10 three-pointers and scored a career-high 35 points.

Sallie, a sophomore who hadn't scored more than 13 points in a game this season, hit a three-pointer to extend the Tigers' lead to 75-68 with 2:09 left. Then he hit another to make it 78-68.

Sallie broke Larry Kenon's 36-year-old Memphis record of 34 points in an NCAA tournament game.

"I don't think my teammates would ever expect me to break a record like that," Sallie said. "I'm just a shooter. I just was hitting shots today."

The Matadors, who attacked the basket relentlessly, played as if they had little to lose. To get to the tournament, Coach Bobby Braswell and his team had overcome the arrest of his son, Jeffrey, and leading scorer Deon Tresvant on felony theft and burglary charges.

Point guard Josh Jenkins was lost for the season because of injuries sustained in a February car accident. The coach had been injured himself in an auto accident last summer.

"I don't even know if I have the words to really say how proud I am of my team," Braswell said. "This group showed a lot of heart, a lot of tenacity and, you know, we asked them to do some things."

It was the Tigers' first NCAA appearance since losing last season's national-championship game to Kansas in overtime after blowing a nine-point, second-half lead.

Northridge jumped out to a 9-2 advantage, and Memphis didn't lead until Tyreke Evans' jumper put the Tigers up, 13-11, with 13:58 before halftime.

Northridge, switching between man-to-man defense and zone, didn't buckle when Memphis went up by seven in the first half and by five early in the second.

The Matadors made it 40-40 on three-pointer by Rodrigue Mels with 15:10 left. A few moments later, Hill threw a no-look pass to Willie Galick underneath to put the Matadors ahead, 46-43.

By then, the neutral fans at the Sprint Center had begun to sense an upset and were cheering for the underdog Matadors.

A steal and a layup by Northridge's Vincent Cordell made it 62-56 with 10:11 to play.

But the Matadors were done in by Sallie, who was serenaded by Memphis fans as time expired.

"People really don't know of Cal State Northridge basketball," Hill said. "That's what we wanted to show today. They [the Memphis players] were kind of shocked, as probably the world was."

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jeff.barker@baltsun.com

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