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Game Turns Into Fight After Titans’ Victory : Basketball: Bowen of Fullerton “probably has a broken nose.” Don Leary’s rebound basket with about three seconds left wins it.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

A simmering rivalry between Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine that some thought had diminished in recent years boiled over with a melee on the Bren Center court after Fullerton’s 61-59 victory in front of 3,784 Saturday.

Though personnel from both benches either fought or restrained others, no fans appeared to get involved.

The game was far closer than expected, and wasn’t decided until the final seconds. Titan guard Don Leary recovered the rebound after his missed shot, then scored from the lane with a little more than three seconds left for a two-point lead.

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Irvine, which brought a five-game losing streak into the game but led by as many as 12 points, called timeout with 2.7 seconds left, but Fullerton stole the Anteaters’ baseball pass on the inbounds play to seal the victory.

The fracas began as the game ended. Fullerton Coach Brad Holland said he was told Irvine reserve Uzoma Obiekea “sucker-punched” Bruce Bowen, a player Obiekea scuffled with after last year’s game. Officials from both schools, some of whom had briefly viewed a videotape, believed Obiekea struck and kicked Bowen.

Bowen kneeled on the court with his head covered during the three- to four-minute fight, as coaches and administrators from both schools tried to restrain players. Holland, who boarded his players on a bus shortly after Irvine Coach Rod Baker entered their locker room in a conciliatory effort, said Bowen “probably has a broken nose,”

Baker said he would withhold judgment until he sees a film of the incident, and that he had not anticipated any such reactions from the players’ manner during the game.

“It was too good a game to end that way,” Baker said, saying he was “upset about what happened,” but didn’t know which players he was upset with yet. “Now the fact that we still have to go up there (to Titan Gym Feb. 13) makes it even worse.”

Obiekea, who is Nigerian, scuffled with Bowen last season after he said Bowen--who is also black--called him “a (expletive) African.” He said he didn’t know if he hit Bowen this time.

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“I don’t know who I hit,” Obiekea said. “Everyone was going crazy. They went after my teammates. I had to go protect them.”

UC Irvine campus police on hand said they were concerned the fighting would get out of control. Sgt. John Luke said reinforcements were called, but the fight had ended before they arrived. He said a report would be filed, but that he did not anticipate police action. Both coaches were asked if they wanted to pursue charges. Baker said he did not, and Holland said he wanted to see the film and talk to Baker about it before deciding.

Holland said other Titan players were hurt, but he did not know how many or the extent of their injuries. Mike Amaral, Fullerton assistant trainer, had his right elbow iced after being kicked. No others except Bowen were known to be treated.

Irvine (2-9, 0-4) had been struggling so much recently that the team’s state of mind was compared to last season when they lost to San Jose State, which won only two games.

But after a week of stepped-up practices, the Anteaters’ offense and defense was considerably better.

Bowen, Fullerton’s leading scorer, finished with 12 points. He had scored more than 25 in four of his last six games. Aaron Sunderland led the Titans with 16, but was caught up in a fierce battle with Irvine point guard Lloyd Mumford, who scored 15.

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Leary had only three points at halftime, when the score was tied, 30-30, after Fullerton came from 10 points behind. But Leary hit three three-pointers in the second half, scoring 12 points in the final 20 minutes.

The last two were the biggest.

He drove past Irvine’s Keith Stewart for an open shot in the final seconds of the game, but then missed wide to the left, barely drawing rim. He redeemed himself with the rebound.

“I wasn’t supposed to take the winning shot,” Leary said. “It was supposed to be Bowen or one of the big guys but I had an open lane, and I took it and it worked out better for the team.

Fullerton (8-4, 3-2) has won three consecutive Big West games, and its only losses were on the road to Nevada Las Vegas and New Mexico State.

Irvine broke the halftime tie by scored the first 11 points of the second half for a 41-30 lead, holding the Titans scoreless until the 15:36 mark, and not allowing a field goal until Leary’s three-pointer at 14:40.

Another Leary three-pointer tied the score, 49-49 with a little less than 10 minutes to play.

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But Irvine led by five, 57-52, with 6:20 left after Jeff Von Lutzow tipped in a missed shot. Von Lutzow had 22 points and 11 rebounds, his fifth double-double of the year.

Errors cost Irvine down the stretch. Mumford drove the lane, and tried to pass to Dee Boyer, but Fullerton grabbed the ball. Stewart tried a shaky turnaround from the foul line with 30 seconds left on the shot clock in the final minutes. Later, with 25 seconds left he missed an 18-footer.

Baker and Stewart found fault with the first shot, not so much the second.

“We played tonight,” Baker said. “We went after people, we played aggressively. It was like old times. We went after them. I’m not real happy to be 2-9, though.”

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