This was old-school Big West basketball. Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State players have glared at each other for nearly five decades.
This time, Fullerton didn’t blink. The Titans scrapped, surviving two frantic possessions at the end for a 76-74 victory over Long Beach State at the Honda Center on Thursday. It ended the 49ers’ (15-18) seven-game winning streak against the Titans (18-11) in the Big West Conference tournament, dating to 1979.
“We heard about that,” said Fullerton guard Kyle Allman, who had a game-high 24 points.
The Titans did something about it, but only after surviving a frenzied 25 seconds in which the 49ers got off four shots on their last two possessions. Three rolled off the rim while the fourth, a layup by Temidayo Yussuf, was blocked by Jackson Rowe.
“It’s whoever wants it at that point,” said Rowe, who had 18 points and a team-high eight rebounds.
When Gabe Levin’s tip-in attempt at the buzzer failed to go down, the Titans sprinted up court in a burst of relief.
The victory scrubbed clean some of the post-season history between the two teams, at least from the Titans’ perspective. The only time Fullerton beat Long Beach in the tournament was 40 years ago, a victory that was a springboard to the Titans’ run to the 1978 NCAA West Regional final.
Fullerton and Long Beach are two of the three remaining charter members of the Big West. The rivalry pre-dates the Big West Conference, back when it was the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. Their history was cemented long before UNLV joined the conference, turning it into a Snow White and the Eight Dwarfs operation.
The Titans and 49ers are the only conference teams other than Las Vegas to reach a regional final in the NCAA tournament. In 1979, they played before 10,000 at the Long Beach Arena, outdrawing the UCLA-USC game that was played the same night. It was never a warm-and-fuzzy rivalry, between players or fans.
The remnants of that still smolder in this generation.
“We know about it,” Allman said. “It makes everything personal out on the court. You don’t want to let them have anything.”
That edginess on both sides was apparent from the start Thursday. The game included two bloody noses — one for each side — and one flagrant foul.
The 49ers kept flirting with pulling away in the second half, while getting second and third opportunities on offense. Long Beach had a 16-3 edge in offensive rebounds. Long Beach was left with rubber-band leads. Six times the 49ers Long went up by five points, and each time it snapped back.
Gabe Levin, who had 22 points, twice gave Long Beach five-point leads, the last at 60-55 with 10 minutes left. He was limited to one field goal the remainder of the game, with Rowe doing much of the legwork.
“Everything Long Beach does goes through Gabe Levin,” Rowe said. “So that is what I had to do.”
The Titans, one the other hand, appeared to have a hall pass. They had 27 field goals, 20 of which were layups, either in transition or a half-court offense.
“They were giving me the lane and I took advantage of it,” Allman said.
A layup by Rowe and a free throw by Alman gave the Titans a 76-74 lead with 41 seconds left.
In other games:
UC Irvine 68, Hawaii 67 – Max Hazzard’s 17-foor jumper with five seconds left capped a frantic really by the Anteaters (17-16). Brocke Stepteau missed a short jumper at the buzzer for Hawaii (17-13). Irvine trailed, 62-52 with four minutes left, but Eyassu Worku scored seven of his 18 points during a 13-2 run. John Edgar Jr. had 22 points for Irvine.
UC Davis 70, UC Riverside 66 – Joe Mooney and T.J. Shorts Jr. both had 15 points for Davis (22-9) to hold off Riverside (9-22).
UC Santa Barbara 75, Cal Poly 53 – The Gauchos (23-8) went on a 30-8 run to build a 45-18 halftime lead and cruised to victory. Cal Poly finished 9-22 on the season.