For the seventh time in the last eight years, Touro University Nevada took home the coveted hammer as the Matadors defeated the Touro University California Bulls 87-79 on March 2 in Henderson.
The Matadors have owned The Big Game battle with their California counterparts, having only lost once since the annual tradition began in 2010.
The Bulls were hungry for revenge as they started the game on an 8-1 run. It took the Matadors nearly four minutes to score their first field goal, and they spent most of the first half playing from behind. But TUN was aided by several TUC miscues, including two technical fouls that sent the Matadors to the free throw line.
“We made some bad mental mistakes, and it really changed the momentum of the game,” said TUC Head Coach Victor Wallace. “And against a good team, you can’t afford to make a lot of mental mistakes.”
A competitive beginning turned physical when TUC player Kamron Fariba was ejected midway through the first half after he threw the ball at Julian Penaranda, DPT18 while the two players scrambled for a loose ball near half court. The play sent the TUN crowd into an uproar and lit the fire under the TUN players.
Though the Bulls held on to a one-point lead at halftime, the momentum had clearly shifted to the Matadors. After both teams exchanged baskets throughout the second half’s opening minutes, TUN broke off an 11-0 run to take a 62-51 lead, due in large part to the interior play of Julian Franko, DO18.
“I was just going to the hoop and they kept fouling me. I’ve always been an aggressive player, and I like to take the basket,” Franko said.
Franko, a Wisconsin native who was offered several basketball scholarships after high school, led all players with 31 points.
Austin Hill, OT17, was also instrumental for the Matadors with a mixture of drives to the bucket and deadly jump shots. The pair gave the Bulls fits for most of the game, as did Penaranda and his quick ball movement.
Despite TUN’s 11-0 run, the Bulls fought right back and rattled off seven straight points of their own to pull within four with eight minutes to go. But the mental miscues continued to haunt TUC as they got into foul trouble as the game went on.
“I probably shot more free throws tonight than I’ve ever shot in a game before,” Franko said with a laugh. “Their technical fouls couldn’t have come at a better time for us. Late, we were up by four and got four more free throws plus the ball. That was huge for us.”
The Matadors held a 76-65 lead with less than four minutes to go, a lead that the Bulls could not overcome. Standing on the sideline with his hands on his hips, Wallace remained visibly upset with his team’s inability to control its emotions, especially during critical junctures of the game.
“We couldn’t recover from that,” Wallace said. “It happened several times during the course of the game, and it changed our flow.”
TUN left Coronado High School with an 87-79 victory, keeping the hammer in Nevada for the fourth-straight year. The Matadors’ eight-point win was its smallest margin of victory in The Big Game since winning 86-83 in 2011.
For Franko and his teammates who had never lost to TU before, the Matadors’ continuous domination in The Big Game will never get old.
“This was my third year on the team and I had never lost,” Franko said. “I wanted to keep it that way.”