December 29, 2012

Yeager Hits for 30 as Titans Sink Gauchos in Big West Opener

FULLERTON, Calif. -- Cal State Fullerton senior Sammy Yeager finished with a career-high 30 points on 11-of-16 from the floor, including eight makes from three-point range, and the host Titans held off a hard-charging UC Santa Barbara squad in the final five minutes en route to an 86-79 victory over the Gauchos in the Big West Conference men's basketball opener for both teams on Saturday night at Titan Gym.

Fullerton won its season-high fourth-straight contest to improve to 7-5 overall and 1-0 in league play while UC Santa Barbara fell to 4-8 overall and 0-1 in league play.

Yeager became the second Titan player to reach 30 points this season (D.J. Seeley scored a Big West-best 32 points vs. Southern Utah on Nov. 17) and came close to matching Bobby Brown's school single-game record of 11 makes from beyond the arc set back in 2006. Senior Kwame Vaughn added 27 points for his fifth 20-point performance of the season, including a career high-tying 12-of-12 from the line, while Seeley (14 points) and freshman Jared Brandon (10) also finished in double figures for Fullerton.

"It was fun to see Sammy contribute like he can," said head coach Andy Newman. "He's a tremendous scorer, as we all know, and it's good to see him get it, and the way he got it, too, was inside our offense, it wasn't forced."

"I was just really, really confident," Yeager said. "I've been shooting the ball really well in practice the past few days and coach told me to just shoot it and let it go. You definitely get more confident as the game goes on, especially when guys like D.J. and Kwame are just finding you for wide-open shots, so I really didn't have to fight too hard for those shots. They were just set shots and I just had to make them."

Alan Williams finished with his sixth double-double of the season, scoring 22 points -- 18 of those in the second half -- and grabbing 16 rebounds for UC Santa Barbara, making 10-of-17 from the field and grabbing eight offensive boards. Taran Brown finished with 20 points and eight boards while Lewis Thomas added 11 points in the loss.

The Titans, who have had big second-half leads slip away in their last three losses this season, led by as many as 14 points on two occasions in the second half, the last coming with 6:38 to play, but an 11-2 run by the Gauchos closed the gap to just five points two minutes later at 75-70 with 4:46 to go.

"I was really nervous, really worried about that, but I knew we were going to get shots, I just didn't know if we were going to make them," Newman said. "Against Washington and Eastern Washington we got the same shots, but we just didn't make them and tonight, being at home, really helped us.

"Being in that situation always helps. The experience of going through that, guys being settled in, guys understanding the moment, it not being their first time in that situation, so they're a little more comfortable with it, is huge."

Vaughn hit a driving lay up on Fullerton's next trip down the court and Seeley drained a three-pointer after a UCSB miss to rebuild the lead back to 10 and the Titans never looked back. Brandon scored inside and Fullerton made 4-of-5 from the line in the final 28 seconds to ice the victory.

An 8-0 run midway through the first half capped by a three-pointer from Brown erased a seven-point Titan lead, giving the Gauchos a 21-20 advantage with 10:58 to play. That would be the last time UCSB would lead as a basket inside by Brandon kick-started a 15-0 burst for Fullerton that gave the Titans the lead for good. A 10-2 spurt by UC Santa Barbara brought the Gauchos back to within six points with 2:31 to play, but a pair from the line by Vaughn sent Fullerton into the locker room at the break with a 39-31 lead.

The Titans finished 20-of-21 from the stripe and shot just over 53 percent from the field for the game -- including 14-of-30 from beyond the arc -- to outgun the Gauchos, who hit 48 percent from the floor. The 14 makes from three-point range fell just three shy of the school record of 17 set last season against UCSB.

Cal State Fullerton hits the road for their next three contests, beginning on Thursday (Jan. 3) at Hawaii before returning to face Cal State Northridge on Saturday (Jan. 5) at The Matadome.