CSUF men’s basketball defeated UC Irvine 71-55 to earn its third Big West Tournament Championship in program history.
“Unbelievable accomplishment. They picked the right game to play their best basketball. Most importantly the competitive spirit that we needed, the togetherness, the unselfishness that these guys displayed, it’s hard to put into words how proud I am of this group,” said Titans Head Coach Dedrique Taylor.
The game started off slow for both teams, when five shots were missed before Irvine was able to get on the board. However, Titans guard Kyle Allman answered back with the first 3-pointer of the match and converted two early free throws to start his efficient night.
Before long, the Titans jumped out to a 10-point lead six minutes into the half.
The Anteaters fought back and retook the lead at 23-22 with five minutes left in the period. Fortunately for the Titans, that deficit was short lived, as CSUF bounced back to take a 29-25 lead at the break.
Unlike in its two previous tournament games, Fullerton held the lead for the entire second half. Irvine cut the deficit to 3 points early in the period, but as the game progressed, they trailed by as much as 18 points.
Allman and guard Khalil Ahmad were unstoppable offensively, combining for 49 of the Titans’ 71 points while shooting a combined 53.8 percent from the three-point line.
“I knew I had to play well. It was a lot of pressure but I just played my game and my coach set me up to have success, so I just went out there and took my shots,” Allman said.
— Titans Men's Basketball (@FullertonHoops) March 11, 2018
Much like in the Titans first two games, they relied on netting free throws to help them extend the advantage. Forwards Jackson Rowe and Davon Clare, as well as Ahmad, sunk all of their attempts from the line and the team shot 16-20 as a whole.
Defensively, the Titans controlled the glass. Clare gathered seven rebounds, followed by Allman and forward Arkim Robertson with six. CSUF turned the ball over five times with its tournament bid on the line; this is its lowest total of the season when it needed to control the ball most.
The win made CSUF the eighth program in the uber-competitive conference to take home the Big West trophy in the last eight years, sending the Titans to the first round of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008.
“I’m speechless. Literally speechless,” Taylor said. “Validation and a sense of accomplishment is what’s running rampant through my body right now, and not necessarily for me personally, but for the people that believed in this program.”
The Titans will travel to Detroit, Michigan on Friday Mar. 16 to take on Purdue University in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.