In a back and forth quarterfinals battle that went into overtime, Cal State Fullerton men’s basketball team defeated the Hawaiʻi Rainbow Warriors on Thursday, 62-60, to secure a spot in the semifinals of the Big West Championship.
CSUF was five seconds away from advancing to the semifinals in regulation, but Hawaiʻi guard Noel Coleman made a clutch buzzer-beater, creating enough space for him to knock down a three-pointer to send the game into overtime.
Coming out of the half, there was an evident change of energy from the Titans, especially on the defensive end of the court. Guard Tory San Antonio, who was named Big West Defensive Player of the Year, rose to the occasion, forcing a jump ball and two key turnovers that lit a fire under the team. Wrightsell Jr. followed with a crucial deflection that led to a steal and a fastbreak dunk by guard Max Jones to put the Titans up 53-50.
“They’re active, they’re getting into passing lanes, we’re very fortunate to understand who we are and how we have to play and they feed off of eachother,” said CSUF head coach Dedrique Taylor about his team’s defensive performance. “Defensively, this group knows where they are. They know where to hang their hat and tonight was no different.”
In overtime, just when it seemed like the game was slipping away, Jones hit a crucial shot from beyond the arc thanks to an excellent kick-out pass from San Antonio to tie the game at 60-60. Wrightsell Jr. came down the court only a minute later and hit the game winning shot, a soft floater in the lane, to put the Titans up 62-60 and secure the victory.
The Titans finished the game with 11 steals and forced a game-changing 18 turnovers.
It was a dominant performance by Jones, who scored 18 points on 7-of-19 shooting from the field and grabbed 6 rebounds. He also picked up 2 steals on the defensive end.
Wrightsell Jr. chipped in with a double-double, scoring 14 points on a tough 6-of-20 shooting and contributed in dominant fashion on the defensive glass, snatching a team-high eight out of his 10 rebounds.
The Rainbow Warriors were led by guard Samuta Avea who had a strong performance, scoring a game-high 19 points on 6-of-14 shooting from the field and an efficient 5-of-6 from the free-throw line. Avea dominated the defensive glass, securing 10 rebounds on the night.
The Titans struggled right away, both offensively and defensively, as they found themselves trailing 9-1 within the first six minutes of the game. They started 0-of-8 from the field until guard Latrell Wrightsell Jr. knocked down a mid-range jumper to give the Titans their first field goal of the game. CSUF went into the half down, 28-27, after shooting an underwhelming 32.1% from the field and 22% from 3-point territory.
With this win, the Titans now advance to the semifinals where they will play the UC Irvine Anteaters.
CSUF will need to continue to play excellent defense to continue their Big West run. It will be crucial for them to contain guards Dawson Baker and DJ Davis, who both averaged 15 points in the regular season and are capable of getting hot from beyond the arc as both guards shoot over 37% from 3-point territory.
The Big West Championship semifinal is scheduled for Friday at Dollar Loan Center in Henderson, Nevada. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m.
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