Heat turned up in Big West tourney

ANAHEIM, CA-The action was fast. The tempo was somewhat furious as the first action of Big West Tournament men’s basketball saw the top four seeds stave off the competition for the right to battle for a chance to play in the championship round and a berth into the NCAA Tournament.

No. 3 Cal State Fullerton was probably aghast at the notion they were down at halftime to pesky and persistent Cal State Northridge during their quarterfinal matchup at the Anaheim Honda Center.

The Titans found themselves down 41-37 to the No. 6 Matadors. But like good teams do, the Titans got their act together in the second half to claim a 81-68 win, outscoring Northridge 44-27 to advance to the semifinals. Fullerton gets No. 2 UC Davis next.

Cal State Fullerton turned back Cal State Northridge in the quarterfinals of the Big West Tournament with a 81-68 win at the Anaheim Honda Center. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline.com

Fullerton coach Dedrique Taylor, citing the Titans’ willingness to step up their defensive pressure, was pleased his team came out on top with the victory.

“Always feels good to win, particularly in the post season. I felt this group did what they needed to do in the second half. The first half had some unusual line ups on the floor, but we fought through it. The second half we got our rhythm on defense. Offensively we got ourselves going because of our defense. That has to be our calling card; our defense in this type of environment.”

What did in the Matadors was simply a bad case of poor shooting at the most inopportune time. Fullerton’s had a hand in that. After shooting nearly 55 percent in the first half, Northridge regressed in the second half, completing just 37 percent (10 of 27) of their field goals. Fullerton didn’t have that problem. The Titans shot a more than respectable 50 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes.

UC Riverside player Secean Johnson (20) led the Highlanders with 22 points in his team’s 76-67 defeat to No. 1 UC Irvine in the quarterfinals of the Big West Tournament. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline.com

They ramped it up in the second half, shooting 60 percent (15 of 25) from the field to easily pull away from Northridge. Northridge coach Reggie Theus said the Matadors played each half differently.  

“I thought we played a good half of basketball. I thought the first half we did everything game plan wise that we were supposed to do,” Theus said. “We outrebounded them and were out in the break. Tavrion Dawson played really well early, and I thought our energy was really high. Then we came back in the second half and our defensive energy was just not where it was in the first half. When TD got hurt, that really hurt us, because we don’t really have anyone else to play that spot. We played well and got to the rim, but for us, if we only get to the line 11 times there’s something wrong because that’s not the way we play.”   

Meanwhile, No. 1 UC Irvine took down UC Riverside, but not without some anxious moments.  The Anteaters had built a comfortable, commanding double-digit lead late in the game before the Highlanders made it a game by pushing back with a furious run and cutting Irvine’s down to three points. But behind the play of Jaron Martin ( 19 points) and (Luke Nelson), Irvine closed out the game to win 76-67.

“There was a lot of time left on the clock. I just wanted to lead, that’s my duty as a senior,” Martin said. “Getting these guys calmed down and trying to figure out the best way to win. Down the stretch I knew I needed to score more and I just tried to do what I needed to.”  

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