Cal State Fullerton began defense of its 2018 Big West tournament title with a victory Thursday.
But it required a big performance from one of its stars, a near-miss late and overtime.
“This time of year it’s all about survive and advance,” coach Dedrique Taylor said after a 75-71 win over UC Davis at Honda Center. “That was the epitome of survive and advance right there.”
Fullerton won this tournament a year ago as the No. 4 seed. The Titans are seeded third this time.
Senior guard Khalil Ahmad scored 23 of his game-high 32 points after halftime. Kyle Allman Jr. added 20 points for Fullerton (15-16).
The Aggies (11-20) were led by TJ Shorts II, who scored 28. They had a chance to win with the score tied 67-67 at the end of regulation, but Matt Neufeld’s hook shot in the lane bounced away as time expired.
“I just rely on our preparation,” Taylor said. “If the guy makes the shot, he makes the shot. My whole thing is just trying to be our best. We ask them to come out and give their all to be their best. I thought down the stretch and for a few significant stretches in the game they did that.”
So Fullerton’s bid to repeat and earn a second consecutive trip to March madness continues.
The Titans, who were seeded 15th in the 2018 NCAA tournament, lost in their first game to No. 2-seed Purdue 74-48.
“It probably adds to the expectations because we have so many guys who were here last year,” Taylor said. “But this is a completely different year, completely different team. This group can pull on that experience. But, at the end of the day, we’ve got to come out and execute for this year’s group.”
UC Irvine 63, UC Riverside 44: The top-seeded Anteaters (28-5) pulled away with a 13-4 run to close out the first half and cruised past the Highlanders (10-23).
Collin Welp had 15 points and Max Hazzard and Evan Leonard both scored 13 as Irvine set a school record with its 14th consecutive win. The 28 victories match the program’s best for a single season.
Riverside shot just 31.5% from the floor and leading scorer Dikymbe Martin was held without a point. Jordan Gilliam had a team-high 11.
“As you saw, it was not a real pretty game,” Irvine coach Russell Turner said. “But that’s sort of what we pride ourselves on. Defensively, we shut them down for multiple periods of that game.”
The Anteaters played without two regulars, guard Eyassu Worku and forward John Edgar Jr., both of whom have injuries that are considered minor.
Turner said Worku and Edgar Jr. remain day-to-day.
In the eight years this event has been at Honda Center, the No. 1 seed has won the tournament only twice.
UC Santa Barbara 71, Cal State Northridge 68: Ar’Mond Davis scored 19 points as the second-seeded Gauchos (22-9) avoided an upset in beating the Matadors (13-20) in the opening game of the tournament.
Santa Barbara trailed 65-60 in the final four minutes before closing on an 11-3 run. Davis hit a three-pointer to start the final push and Max Heidegger made four free throws in the last 1:37.
Amadou Sow had 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Gauchos.
Standout freshman Lamine Diane had 22 points and 17 rebounds for Northridge.
Long Beach State 68, Hawaii 66: Long Beach State trailed by as many as 18 points in the first half and by 12 with seven minutes remaining before storming back to win.
Jordan Roberts hit a short jumper with half a second left to break a 66-66 tie.
Long Beach State (15-18) outscored the Rainbow Warriors (18-13) 21-7 in the final 7:02 to advance.
Roberts, a sophomore, finished with 18 points and nine rebounds in a game Hawaii led for more than 35 minutes.
Zigmars Raimo had 14 points for the Rainbow Warriors.