NORTHRIDGE — UCSB and Cal State Northridge got their star players back at about the same time, but the Matadors’ now have a bigger constellation.
Max Heidegger, playing his fifth game since returning from a concussion, scored a game-high 30 points for the Gauchos, but the Matadors’ one-two punch of Lamine Diane and Terrell Gomez combined for 48 in their 79-67 victory on Thursday.
“Lamine is the leading scorer in the country, it’s really hard to hold him down,” UCSB coach Joe Pasternack said. “He hit some hellacious shots, challenged threes which were unbelievable.
“And Gomez got his average, too. They do what they do. They’re the No. 1 offense in our league and are very difficult to guard. We out-rebounded them, which was good — that was one goal. But defensively, we’re not going to beat teams that are shooting 57% from the floor.”
Diane, who didn’t become eligible until late December, scored 26 points to go with Gomez’s 22 in the CSUN victory.
UCSB (13-8, 2-4 Big West Conference) has allowed its last five opponents to shoot a combined 52.5% (138-263). The Matadors (9-14, 4-3) not only out-shot the Gauchos 57.4% to 44.7%, but they made half of their three-pointers (8-for-16).
“We’ve got to play a lot better than that,” Heidegger said. “It’s a lot of effort stuff defensively — knowing your assignments, knowing guys.
“Of course they hit tough shots, but that’ll happen in the game, especially when they have good players like Lamine and Gomez.”
Heidegger, who grew up barely seven miles from the Matadome, beat CSUN last year on a last-second shot. He followed that up by making 10-of-19 shots on Thursday which included 4-of-8 from three-point range.
“Max played his heart out tonight,” Pasternack said.
The Gauchos trailed 5-0 after three minutes but quickly recovered, making seven of their next 10 shots. Heidegger got them started with his first three and JaQuori added another during a 14-3 run that put them ahead, 14-8.
UCSB still led 16-12 on a runner by Heidegger with 11:12 to go in the first half.
But those last 11 minutes of the first half were a disaster for the Gauchos. They were called for four offensive fouls, sending both of their big men — Amadou Sow and Robinson Idehen — to the bench. Half of UCSB’s 18 fouls came on charging calls, leading to 17 turnovers overall.
“You have to adjust to the game,” Heidegger said. “You’ve got to know how they’re calling it and keep getting after it.”
Sow sat for 13 minutes with two fouls during the first half while Idehen got his third foul on a charging call with three minutes left during the period.
UCSB also missed eight of nine shots and had two other turnovers to allow Northridge to go on a 23-7 run.
Diane carried the Matadors during the first part of the outburst, scoring 11 points in 11 minutes. Gomez took over in the last two minutes by making three straight jumpers, the last of which put CSUN ahead 35-23.
“They’re explosive,” Pasternack said. “To me, they’re as good a team as there is in our league.”
The Gauchos needed Devearl Ramsey to hit a three-pointer to end the first half to get them back within single digits, 35-26.
UCSB rallied to within three points during the first six minutes of the second half. Sow and Jay Nagle both hit threes and Heidegger scored a swooping, three-point play during a 12-4 run. Sow’s layup off a fast-break pass from McLaughlin whittled the Matadors’ lead to 41-38 with 14:05 to go.
Sow got 12 of his 14 points and seven of his 11 rebounds in the second half.
But Diane came alive with back-to-back threes from the top. He then blocked a three-point attempt by McLaughlin and converted it on the other end with a dunk, putting CSUN ahead 49-40. A jumper by Gomez got its margin back into double-digits, 51-41.
Diane’s put-back increased the Matadors’ lead to 12 points with 6:30 remaining.
Heidegger kept driving right back at CSUN. His runner got UCSB within 59-51 less than a minute later. But CSUN sank four straight threes — two by Gomez, another by Diane, and another by Darius Brown II to hold the Gauchos at bay.
“He’s a first-round draft pick in my opinion,” Pasternack said of Diane. “He hit huge, huge threes with people in his face. I’ve never seen him shoot threes like that.”