The Battle of Orange County had all the makings to be a classic as the all time series between the UC Irvine men’s basketball team and Cal State Fullerton was at a 52-52 deadlock heading into Wednesday night’s game at Titan Gym.
Fullerton, having lost their last 10 meetings to Irvine, continued their recent three-game surge and were able to knock off their cross county foe, 56-54, to make the race for the Big West regular season championship a tight one with two weeks left before the conference tournament.
UC Irvine (16-13, 9-4) sits only a half-game above UC Davis (16-11, 8-4) in the conference standings. With the win, Fullerton (14-12, 8-5) share hold of third place with Long Beach State (13-16, 8-5).
UCI was outworked by Cal State Fullerton as the Titans outrebounded (47-39), outscored in the paint (26-16), and committed fewer turnovers than the ‘Eaters (15-12). The Titans grabbed 19 offensive boards and garnered 14 second chance points. Fullerton also has 21 more shot attempts that Irvine.
“We turned the ball over a lot more than they did, looked soft with the ball on a number of plays, and they dominated us with their offensive rebounding,” said head coach Russell Turner. “Credit to Cal State Fullerton. They outplayed us, they outfought us, they outscrappied us, they out clawed us, and it looked like the win was more important for them than it was for us.”
Despite the loss, senior guard Luke Nelson garnered a game high 20 points while fellow senior guard Jaron Martin scored 12 points on a four of eight performance from deep.
For the Titans, senior guard Tre Coggins registered 17 points and freshman forward Jackson Rowe posted a double-double of 12 points and 12 rebounds.
Irvine’s biggest lead of the game was near the end of the first half when Martin hit three consecutive threes for the ‘Eaters to put them up 26-20. Fullerton were able to chip the lead down to 27-24 heading into halftime. Another Martin trey would give the ‘Eaters a six point lead once again in the second half but an immediate answer from Coggins fueled an 8-0 Titan run to give them the lead for the rest of the night. Fullerton purposefully missed a free throw in hopes for the clock to expire in the closing seconds of the game but the ‘Eaters recovered and called a timeout to run a set play to force overtime or score a game winning shot from deep. With 2.4 seconds on the clock, freshman center Brad Greene threw a cross court lob to sophomore forward Galloway and the ‘Eaters called a timeout as soon as he caught it, leaving only 0.9 seconds left on the clock. Senior center Ioannis Dimakopoulos inbounded the ball to a scurrying Nelson, that was not able to get control of the ball, but time expired thus halting Irvine’s three game win streak.
The ‘Eaters will have two of their last three games at home with Homecoming being this Saturday against CSUN (11-14, 7-5).