ANAHEIM – It wasn’t just the poor perimeter shooting or 16 turnovers that indicated it might be a long night for the Cal State Northridge men’s basketball team. With seven minutes remaining in the first half, a cheer routine during a timeout resulted in a Matadors cheerleader being dropped near center court. And less than seven minutes into the second half, a boisterous CSUN fan was ejected from Anaheim Convention Center after slamming the basketball in front of an official. It all added up to an uphill battle Wednesday for the sixth-seeded Matadors, who couldn’t overcome a 14-point halftime deficit in a 71-54 loss to No. 7 University of the Pacific in the opening round of the Big West Conference tournament. “I thought they were pretty good offensively and we weren’t as good as we needed to be defensively,” CSUN coach Bobby Braswell said. “Like so many games down the stretch at the end, we struggled to score.” After finishing an uncharacteristic seven games below .500 during the regular season – the Tigers’ worst mark since 2003 – it appeared that Pacific might have been vulnerable entering the postseason. But the Tigers (12-18) demonstrated why they’re the reigning conference tournament champions, attacking CSUN’s zone defense with crisp ball movement and efficient 3-point shooting. CSUN (14-17), which snapped a nine-game losing streak against Pacific with a 76-73 victory Feb. 24 at the Matadome, didn’t help its cause, making only eight of 25 first-half field goals. “I thought their execution was a lot better (than the first two meetings),” Braswell said. “That’s obviously their best of the three games … They have some guys who have played at that (championship) level.” The Tigers, who will face third-seeded Cal State Fullerton (19-9) at 6 p.m. today in the quarterfinals, shot 51.7 percent (15 of 29) from the field in the opening 20 minutes. The Matadors were the last team, and only the fourth in tournament history, to reach the final with a seed of sixth or lower. With a victory over top-seed Long Beach State in the regular season, CSUN believed it could recapture the magic of 2004, when it advanced to the championship game as the No. 6 seed, before losing 75-73 to Pacific. But despite a 10-2 run during a three-minute stretch of the second half – highlighted by back-to-back 3-pointers by Calvin Chitwood (13 points) – which cut the deficit to 50-41 with 11:29 remaining, the Matadors suffered their second consecutive first-round loss. Senior Thomas Shewmake (14 points and 10 rebounds), one of three remaining players from the tournament runner-up squad three years ago, kept the Matadors within striking distance, as his layup pulled CSUN within 70-60 with 7:33 left. But the Tigers responded with a 10-point run and the Matadors didn’t score for nearly six minutes to conclude their season with three consecutive losses. “Going out in the first round, I didn’t really want to do that. It sucks,” Shewmake said. “My senior year, I didn’t really want to go out like that. I’m all over the place right now. It’s not real to me.” Pacific, which received 16 points apiece from Steffan Johnson and Reggie Vezia, improved to 14-3 all-time against CSUN, including four victories in the Big West tournament. [email protected] (818) 713-3607 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!