The Cal State Fullerton men’s basketball team had a great finish in its Big West Tournament first-round game against Cal Poly on Tuesday night.
It was the start that led to the Titans’ early exit.
Tenth-seeded Cal Poly opened the game with a 17-3 run and just kept running all night, turning in its best game of the season in an 87-82 victory over the seventh-seeded Titans at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
The Titans trailed by 13 with 3:39 left, then furiously fought back to get within three points with 55 seconds left. After a Cal Poly miss, Landis Spivey had his 3-point shot blocked out of bounds by Cal Poly’s Riley Till. Spivey’s second effort on the ensuing inbounds play was off-balance, and the Mustangs (4-19) put the game away with two free throws.
Fullerton coach Dedrique Taylor had a lot of good things to say about Cal Poly’s effort, since former Titans assistant John Smith is the Mustangs’ first-year head coach. Taylor just lamented that his team didn’t play its best game.
“Cal Poly established themselves on offense, shot the 3-pointers especially well and they were good in the paint,” said Taylor, whose team finished 6-10. “We didn’t get much done there.
“We had good energy late. But we weren’t the lead dog. We let things happen instead of making them happen. They got wide-open shots and we didn’t make the extra effort to get to them, not with our rotation or our communication.”
Cal Poly becomes the first No. 10 seed to win a Big West tourney game since 1994, though the tournament had been using an eight-team bracket for years. The Mustangs advance to face No. 2 seed UC Irvine (16-8) in a quarterfinal on Thursday at 5 p.m.
The Titans received fine efforts from two reserves: Spivey scored 17 points and Tory San Antonio had 16, each making four 3-pointers. Dante Maddox Jr. added 15 points, while Tray Maddox Jr. had a rough night shooting, scoring eight points on 2-for-14 shooting.
Cal Poly, which was 1-15 during conference play, turned in its best effort of the season by far. The Mustangs averaged just 60 points per game this season and were not particularly efficient from the 3-point line, shooting 30 percent.
But they were aggressive from the start. They made 12 of 18 3-point attempts and were led by Colby Rogers (21 points), Alimamy Koroma (18), Keith Smith (10) and Kobe Sanders (10). They outscored the Titans 30-8 on fast-breaks and had 30 points in the paint.
“We took advantage of things against their defense and attacked them in press, which led to some easy baskets,” Poly coach Smith said. “I preached to them that we could win if we stayed disciplined and resilient. We really embraced the moment.”
For Fullerton, it was a disappointing end to a pandemic-disrupted season.
“It’s a tough way to go out,” Taylor said. “You get to this point you hate to see it. But we deserved what we got.”
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