After an intense back-and-forth performance on Tuesday night, Cal State Fullerton handed Long Beach State its ninth straight victory and first place in the Big West, 71-61.
The atmosphere was fiery from the jump at the Walter Pyramid. There were empty seats throughout the arena, yet vibrations from the crowd echoed in the night as fans in attendance channeled March Madness levels of enthusiasm.
Both teams were locked in defensively starting the first half. The physicality early in the game set the tone, as most field goal attempts were in a crowded paint area or contested looks as the shot clock expired.
Despite shooting struggles, the frontcourt pairing of forward E.J. Anosike and forward Vincent Lee dominated the offensive glass, combining for 10 offensive rebounds in the first half. As they made their way to the boards, the Titans found their way to the free throw line where they were eight for nine, compared to Long Beach State’s lone attempt at the charity stripe.
The Titans received a much needed boost from their bench as guards Jalen Harris and Tray Maddox Jr. were efficient scoring the basketball, combining for 18 of 33 first half points while shooting 57.1% and 50% from the floor, respectively.
While still as physical, the second half was a different ball game for Fullerton.
Long Beach State started the half with a full-court press, making possessions difficult for the Titans as they struggled to find their rhythm. Though the Titans were leading by as much as nine in the second half, missed opportunities allowed for chances to cut into their lead, an aspect CSUF head coach Dedrique Taylor highlighted after the game.
“In the second half, they executed better than us. We turned the ball over against their press, that’s not like us. I thought we got to the free throw line but we didn’t reward ourselves,” said Taylor.
While the Titans’ frontcourt started hot early, star transfer Anosike couldn’t muster a single second half rebound, and Lee only hit the glass three times after an impressive first half outing. The Beach outrebounded their visiting rivals by 11 in the second half.The shooting woes still lingered as the Titans finished the game shooting just under 34% from the floor.
Still, grit and hustle made the game a close battle until the four-minute mark, in which Long Beach State guards Jadon Jones and Colin Slater hit consecutive 3-pointers that kept the Titans at bay. From there, missed shots and costly turnovers down the stretch iced the game for the Titans, and snapped their two-game win streak. The Beach now sits solely in first in the Big West standings.
After a disappointing end to a promising first half, Taylor emphasized how poor execution late simply won’t translate to winning in the Big West, and that the team must stay focused to achieve the results they are working toward.
“We just didn’t execute down the stretch, in terms of personnel and transition,” Taylor said. “In order to do what we want to do, you gotta find a way to win. You got to find a way to make it up; you can’t be worried about this person winning or that team winning just do your job. As long as we focus on just doing our job, we’ll like the outcome.”
The Titans look to bounce back on Saturday as they head to Honolulu, O’ahu to face the University of Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors at 9 p.m. PST at Simplifi Arena.
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