NORTHRIDGE — It was almost too easy for D.J. Seeley on Saturday night.
With around seven minutes left in Saturday’s Big West Conference game between Cal State Fullerton and Cal State Northridge, Seeley hit a contested three, giving the Titans a 21-point lead over the Matadors. As Matador fans booed the sharpshooter, Seeley turned to the crowd and gave them an emphatic, “That’s right!” as he pounded his chest.
It was a performance worth the celebratory reaction. Seeley hit nearly everything that came his way, scoring a career-high 37 points in the Titans’ 105-86 rout of CSUN. It was the most points scored by a Big West player this season, and it’s tied for the fifth-most in Cal State Fullerton history.
Fullerton head coach Andy Newman was justifiably ecstatic over his star guard’s performance.
“What a game,” Newman said. “He came out and he performed like I’ve never seen him play.”
The senior guard went 10-for-17 from the field and 13-of-15 from the free throw line. He hit shots from all over the court, driving through traffic, knocking down jumpers from the baseline and hitting three’s on the wing. He played loose but aggressive, all the while blissfully unaware that he was close to 40 points.
“I was just in the flow of the game.” Seeley said. “It wasn’t until those last free throws, when I looked up and saw (the total). But then I missed them, of course.”
The Titans (8-6, 2-1) were coming off a heartbreaking, buzzer-beating loss Thursday night at Hawaii and were admittedly beleaguered from the quick trip. Seeley played all 40 minutes in Honolulu, tying the game with six seconds left. He took the loss especially hard, and Newman was expecting it to affect his performance against the Matadors.
“He had every excuse to play tired after that and he didn’t,” Newman said. “But it’s a tremendous attest to his character and his physical shape and his desire to be really good.”
Fueled by the manor in which they lost Thursday night, the Titans came out hot. Fullerton shot 58.6 percent from the field and 52.2 percent from beyond the arc. Kwame Vaughn scored 22 points and Sammy Yeager added 21 with six rebounds.
“The crazy thing is, we thought it would have the opposite effect on Fullerton and it didn’t bother them,” said CSUN (9-6, 0-3) head coach Bobby Braswell. “They came in yesterday from a long flight and that trip and they came in with a lot more energy and a whole lot more spunk to them.”
The Matadors didn’t exactly go down without a fight.
“We scored 86 points – that’s a pretty big chunk of points,” Braswell said.
Stephen Maxwell led the Matadors with 22 points and 12 rebounds and Braswell insisted that the forward was the only Northridge player that played hard defensively.
“He was the one guy that I thought really gave a great effort every minute that he was on the floor,” Braswell said. “Other than that, we didn’t play too well tonight.”
Stephan Hicks scored 20 and Josh Greene and Trevone Williams each added 10.
“I never felt comfortable defensively,” Braswell said. “I never felt that we were at a place where we needed to be defensively, where we were controlling it.”
The Matadors had a chance in the first half. The Titans took an early lead but nearly let it slip away when turnovers opened the door. Up 22-16, Stephen Maxwell hit three straight layups to bring CSUN within two with just under 10 minutes left.
At 8:25, a three by Stephan Hicks cut the Fullerton lead to one, but a Jared Brandon jumper and a runner by Vaughn extended the lead back up to 31-26. From there, Fullerton went on an 11-4 run to go up by 10. The Titans maintained a double-digit lead throughout much of the half, going up by as many as 14 in the final stretch when Harris swiped one and took it down for a big one-handed jam on the break, making the score 50-36.
“We were on our heels all night, even in the first half,” Braswell said. “We were responding to what they were doing, versus us making them respond to us.”
The Matadors never found an offensive rhythm again. Fullerton continued to keep its lead hovering around the 10-point mark throughout much of the second half. CSUN switched from a man-to-man to a zone defense and even doubled up on Seeley in an effort to contain him but never found an answer.
“It wasn’t really a contained double, it was more of an aggressive, hope-we-get-a-steal double,” Seeley said. “So I was able to get by it and make plays.”
Late in the game, with Seeley closing in on 40 points, he came to the free throw line after a Greene technical and was awarded four shots. Had he made them all, he would have finished with 39 points, but he made every other shot and would like to have those two missed ones back. But now having come close, he has firmly set his sights on 40 points.
“I’m going to get 40,” Seeley said. “I have to; it’s my goal.”