all the way from sixth place to eighth in the Big West Conference after Thursday night's 96-92 loss to the Anteaters.
A crowd of 2,021 in Titan Gym saw Fullerton cut a 20-point deficit to four midway through the second half and an 11-point deficit to two with 1:17 remaining.
But Gerald McDonald made two free throws with 20 seconds left and Jeff Von Lutzow made two foul shots with four seconds remaining to keep the Anteaters ahead by four and secure the victory.
The loss dropped the Titans to 13-12, 6-10 in conference, only half a game ahead of ninth-place San Jose State with two games left--against UC Santa Barbara Saturday and Nevada Las Vegas on March 2. The Anteaters (9-18, 4-11) remain in last place but kept their conference tournament playoff hopes alive. They have three games left, against Las Vegas, Utah State and San Jose State.
Irvine forward Jeff Herdman, a senior, scored a career-high 31 points, making five of five three-point shots, and senior center Ricky Butler scored 28 points, making all 13 of his field-goal attempts. The Anteaters shot 67% from the field, well above their 43% season average.
Herdman did most of his damage from outside, and Butler, who scored 32 points and grabbed 17 rebounds in a previous victory over Fullerton, rendered the Titans defenseless again.
"When the ball goes in the hole, we look a lot better," Anteater Coach Bill Mulligan said. "In the Santa Barbara game (a 69-60 loss Saturday), Butler was shooting fallaways, but when he takes it to the hole, he's unstoppable."
Joe Small scored a career-high 33 points for the Titans, who had five players in double figures. Fullerton made a school-record 12 three-point shots in 25 attempts, but the Titans couldn't make the key plays in the second half.