ANAHEIM, Calif. – Cal State Fullerton outscored UC Santa Barbara 29-13 over the final 11:24 of to overcome a 10-point deficit and record a 64-58 win in a semifinal game at the Big West Tournament on Friday at Honda Center.
The Gauchos (22-10), who lost starting point guard Devearl Ramsey with a groin injury 12 minutes into the game, missed their last 10 field goal attempts over the final 7:07 and the Titans (16-16) took full advantage.
"We had to play some of our backcourt players more minutes than they're used to and they had to bring the ball up the court all night," said UCSB head coach Joe Pasternack. "Max (Heidegger) and JaQuori (McLaughlin) did a good job with that, but we just stopped making shots and that was the game."
Santa Barbara held on to its lead until Devon Clare made a scoop shot in the paint to tie the score at 54-54 with 3:29 left in the game. Amadou Sow, who tied for team-high honors with 14 points, made 1-of-2 free throws on consecutive possessions to give the Gauchos a 56-54 lead at the 2:13 mark.
Khalil Ahmad, who finished with a game-high 28 points, was fouled with 2:03 remaining and he hit both free throws to tie the score at 56.
The Titans then blocked three consecutive UCSB shots. The first was a three-point attempt by Jay Nagle as the shot clock ran down with 1:33 on the clock. On the other end, Ahmad hit a hanging jumper from the free throw line to give his team a 58-56 edge with 1:12 to play.
McLaughlin then had his shot blocked by Kyle Allman, Jr., but the Gauchos retained possession when the ball went out of bounds. Jackson Rowe then blocked his next attempt, Jamal Smith rebounded and was intentionally fouled. He made 1-of-2 free throws to push the lead to 59-56 with 42 seconds to play.
Heidegger was fouled going to the basket 12 seconds later and made 1-of-2 free throws to cut the lead to 59-57. On the inbounds, Ahmad was intentionally fouled by McLaughlin and he countered by also making 1-of-2 from the line, making it a 60-57 game with 27 seconds remaining.
Ahmad fouled Sow at the 16 second mark and the UCSB freshman once again made 1-of-2, trimming the lead to 60-58. Ahmad scored the last four points, two on free throws and then on a breakaway slam dunk with two ticks left on the clock.
"All year these guys honored the process," Pasternack said. "We really had to replace all five starters from last year and we've accomplished a lot. We'll have seven of our top nine players back next season and there is a lot to be excited about."
Heidegger tied Sow for team-high honors with 14 points and added six rebounds. Ar'mond Davis scored just five points but had a team-high seven rebounds for the Gauchos who won the rebound battle, 34-32.
UCSB finished the game at 39.2% from the field, but before missing its final 10 field goals its percentage was a solid 48.8%. Allman, Jr., added 12 points for the titans, who made 46.3% of their field goals.
Fullerton and UC Irvine will meet for the Big West title on Saturday night. It will be a rematch between the school's that competed for the championship in 2018 and the Titans will be looking to repeat.