UCSB was hoping a healthy Max Heidegger would help it take a step forward at the Thunderdome on Wednesday, but the injury list took one guard back instead.
The absence of JaQuori McLaughlin, the Gauchos’ scoring and assist leader, led to an 83-75 setback to Cal State Northridge at the Thunderdome on Wednesday.
“It’s a tough hit,” UCSB coach Joe Pasternack said.
McLaughlin, who suffered a groin injury during Tuesday’s practice, tried warming up before Wednesday’s game before being ruled unavailable.
“It’s day-to-day,” Pasternack said of the injury. “He’s going to get an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging scan). We’ll see what happens.
“I don’t know if he’s out for the season. I’m not sure. Hopefully he’s back soon. We need him.”
CSUN (8-13, 3-2 Big West Conference), which had lost its five previous games against UCSB, handed the Gauchos (12-79, 1-3) their third-straight loss. UCSB will try to stop its skid on Saturday when UC Davis visits the Thunderdome for a 7 p.m. game.
McLaughlin had been averaging 15.1 points per game, but his absence was even more of a hit on defense. With both Heidegger and Devearl Ramsey forced to play 37 minutes, CSUN’s starting backcourt of Darius Brown II (21 points) and Terrell Gomez (15) had a field day.
“Devearl and Max are playing too many minutes,” Pasternack said. “It’s hard to defend at a high rate playing 37 minutes, so we’ve got to get JaQuori back. That’s the bottom line.”
CSUN forward Lamine Diane, last year’s Big West MVP, led all scorers with 27 points.
“We have to play defense, that’s really what it comes down to,” said Heidegger, who scored a team-high 21 points in his third game back from a concussion. “We give up 50 points in the second half, and that’s pretty unacceptable.
“It looks like they shot 64%, if I’m not mistaken, and 77% from three. I mean, it’s near-impossible to win a game like that.”
UCSB has now led at halftime in five of the seven games it’s lost this season.
CSUN did get the jump on the Gauchos, using a pair of offensive rebounds in the first two-plus minutes to take a 6-0 lead.
Heidegger woke the Gauchos up with a runner and a fast-break layup off Brandon Cyrus’ pass to get them within 8-6.
The Matadors pulled ahead 18-10 after back-to-back three-pointers by Diane and Terrell Gomez. They shot 56.3% from three for the game (9-16) and 52.5% overall.
UCSB missed its first three threes until it got consecutive makes from Cyrus and Heidegger, taking its first lead, 20-18, with 9:09 left in the first half.
But the Gauchos’ shooting touch went right back into the deep freeze. They missed their next six threes to allow CSUN to take a 27-24 lead on Diane’s short fade shot.
“I’ve known him since I was 14,” said UCSB’s Amadou Sow, who took turns with Robinson Idehen in guarding Diane. “We played back home (in Africa) a couple of times.
“He makes tough shots.”
Sow scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half and matched Diane for game-high rebound honors with seven.
UCSB, which went six minutes without a basket in the first half, rallied behind Ramsey’s driving bank shot with 3:23 left in the first half. He finished with 13 points, three assists, and no turnovers.
The Gauchos added nine more points, capped by Matt Freeman’s three, to take a 35-33 lead into halftime.
UCSB out-shot the Matadors in the first half, 48% to 41.9, and out-rebounded them 17-14. It would end up winning the rebound battle, 36-24, but its meek, man-to-man defense forced only four turnovers and allowed CSUN to get blazing hot in the second half.
“We just didn’t compete as we should in the second half,” Sow said. “I don’t know if guys are tired or whatever it is. I just know we didn’t compete in the second half … We shouldn’t give up 50 points, no matter if you’re tired or not.”
The Gauchos matched the Matadors for a while after the break. They found their range from three, with Ramsey, Freeman and Sow each making one during an early, two-minute spree. But the Matadors kept up, tying the game at 46-all.
UCSB cooled off before CSUN. The Matadors were 6-for-6 for the half by the time Gomez made a wide-open three with 14:28 to go, putting them ahead 51-48. The Gauchos never led again.
They got within 56-55 on Heidegger’s step-back three, but a 9-2 run pushed CSUN back up by eight. A three by Brown gave CSUN a 65-57 lead with 8:49 remaining.
UCSB’s last surge included a dazzling, dipsy-doo runner by Heidegger and another three by Sow, bringing it to within 69-66.
But the baskets became easier and easier for the Matadors, with more wide-open threes by Brendan Harrick and Brown giving them their first double-digit lead of 77-66 with 3:12 left.
“Obviously (Diane and Gomez) are the two alpha-dog guys who are pretty much their whole team,” Heidegger said. “When you have guys (Brown and Harrick) who don’t normally do that — hit step-back threes — it’s a little tough.
“Stuff like that happens sometimes. They made big plays across the board, especially those role players when they needed them to … If guys like that make shots, it makes them tougher to guard.”