Reggie Theus’ focus on culture change pays off for CSUN

Cal State Northridge defeated Long Beach State, 91-83, on Thursday night.

NORTHRIDGE, Calif. — It took five years and 10 games but Cal State Northridge finally got a win over Long Beach State, Thursday night at the Matadome.

This win, a hard-fought 91-83 victory, was a little different than the Matadors’ other 14 of the season. The big three in the Big West, UC Santa Barbara, UC Irvine and now Long Beach State, have all been beaten by Northridge. Meaning that next week, when Northridge plays in its first Big West Championship Tournament since 2011, the Matadors stand a little more of a chance than many would have given them earlier this season.

"We won it in the (regular) season on a positive, we’ve beat all the top teams in the conference and we have to feel good that under any circumstances we have a chance to beat anybody," said first-year head coach Reggie Theus. "These kind of wins is what helps build programs."

Theus took over this season with the intention to turn Northridge into something it never has been before. Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara regularly pack their respective home courts, which both have a good amount of charm, character and a winning product. With a new arena only a thought on the horizon, Theus wanted to turn the Matadome into a venue with the same qualities. 

To do that, there needed to be an emphasis on the third part of the equation.

I have to do my part, they have to do their part. We have to sell this program — allow people on campus to know that we are part of campus life.

Reggie Theus

"Winning is more enforced," said senior guard Josh Greene. "No disrespect to (former head coach Bobby) Braswell, he wanted to win too but now we have an A.D. and a school president who are basketball people. They’re slowly enforcing basketball on this campus. The expectations are really high and the result we’re getting — better players, better facilities and better support."

The team had plenty of support in the form of 1,585 people for Thursday’s game. A standing room-only crowd watched as the defense pressed The Beach (13-16, 9-6 Big West) into a sloppy first half. The Matadors got to the line 39 times and Stephan Hicks, who finished with a career-high 28 points, was a perfect 13-for-13 from the line. 

CSUN had trouble containing Tyler Lamb (22 points) and the inside presence of Dan Jennings (10 points, 10 rebounds) in the second half but pushed the pace as high as they could go and fed off the crowd to close out the game in the waning minutes. 

This win, the crowd and all, was the result of the culture change that Theus implemented. He spent most of the preseason and part of the early season reaching out to groups on campus. He preached to his squad that they needed to be more on campus to attract more fans.

"It takes effort, we all have to do a little bit more," Theus said. "On campus, we all have to do a little bit more. I have to do my part, they have to do their part. We have to sell this program — allow people on campus to know that we are part of campus life."

Theus and the Matadors (15-17, 7-9 Big West) accomplished a lot this season. They have one more thing left on the list to check off: Win a postseason game.