ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Eighth-seeded Cal State Fullerton closed to within just four points with 6:33 remaining in the game, but a 9-1 run by top-seeded Long Beach State enabled the 49ers to pull away late, lifting them to a, 75-66, victory over the Titans on Thursday night in the first round of the Big West Conference Tournament at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.
Senior Kwame Vaughn and sophomore Alex Harris each finished with a game-high 19 points while senior Jordan Knox closed out his career with a career-high 12 points, five rebounds, and five assists for the Titans (14-18 overall), who lost their final five games of the year after losing two of their top three scorers for the final three weeks of the regular season.
Long Beach State improved to 19-12 overall and advances to face the winner of No. 5 Hawaii and No. 4 UC Irvine on Friday (March 15) at 6:30 p.m.
Trailing by as many as 12 to start the second half after being down 10 at the break, Fullerton slowly began to chip away. An 8-2 spurt by the Titans, five of those coming via Vaughn, who scored 11 of his 19 in the second half, brought them to within six. The 49ers rebuilt their lead back to 10, but Fullerton hung tough, scoring 13 of the next 20 points -- including a pair of three's from Knox -- to get within four at 58-54 with 7:31 to play.
Harris answered a lay-up by Mike Caffey with one of his own to keep it at four, but that would be as close as the Titans would get. Deng Deng hit a three to jumpstart Long Beach State's winning kick as Fullerton could manage only a free throw by Vaughn over the next four minutes before freshman Jared Brandon scored inside to end the drought.
After a lay-up by James Ennis put the 49ers back up 12, the Titans finished strong, scoring seven of the final 11 points in the game, but it wasn't enough to erase the deficit.
Big West Player of the Year Ennis finished with a team-high 15 points to go with nine rebounds in the win, one of four Long Beach State players in double figures. Deng added 12 and Peter Pappageorge scored 10 off the bench with Caffey the only other starter in double figures with 10. Dan Jennings grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds to lead the 49ers to a 37-18 advantage on the glass, including a 14-7 lead on the offensive end.
Fullerton shot 49 percent from the field for the game -- including a 52 percent clip in the first half -- but could not hold back Long Beach State, which hit on 58 percent from the floor, including a robust 64 percent in the second half.
INTERIM HEAD COACH ANDY NEWMAN
"I was really proud of our guys, they really fought hard. Being undermanned this whole year, really to start the year and then down the stretch, I cannot tell you how proud I am of these guys and how hard they fought to the bitter end. They just overacheieved every night and I'll remember these guys forever. Just the heart, the toughness, and the fight they had in them was incredible."
ABOUT SLOWING THE GAME DOWN
"Going into it, we knew that we needed to shorten the game and keep the possessions down to give us a chance and we did that. We were able to dictate tempo pretty well and we were right in it down the stretch. I was really proud of the way they executed the game plan.
ON JORDAN KNOX
"He stepped up and played great. Jordan is one of this guys that has been with us a long time. He's a walk on, paid his own way. He's the story you love to tell... bided his time, didn't play much at the beginning of the year and through injury, got his opportunity and took advantage of it. He's gonna forever go down playing one of the best games of his life when he should, his senior year at the pinnacle of when he's playing. I was really proud of him. That's the kind of story you want to tell. He didn't quit, didn't get down, just kept his head up, kept waiting for his time and got it, and made the most of it. Made some big shots, made some big plays, and was a stud for us."
ON SECOND-HALF ADJUSTMENTS AGAINST HIM
"Long Beach had a good game plan, they box and two me and Kwame for the last two minutes so we tried to let our other teammates shoot. They had a good game plan, it wasn't about scoring for me. We played hard but we lost on rebounds to me. They did a good job."
ON THE PLAY OF SENIOR JORDAN KNOX
"When he made his first one, we knew his confidence was high so, after he made the second one, we told him, 'Every time you catch the ball and you're wide open, shoot it.' He played heart out. I wish he could come back and play again (next year). I love playing with him, great player on and off the court. He did well."
ON WHAT THE PROGRAM NEEDS TO IMPROVE
"Obviously we need more size, but we have great character from Coach Newman to the last person on the bench. Great players, attitude, some positive energy, I think we have great game plans. I think we are just small and we need some bigs. The coaching staff does a great job, they can get great players."
ABOUT COMING INTO THE TOURNAMENT SHORTHANDED
"I have a lot of confidence in our team. I wasn't frustrated at all. I had confidence in us, we just gave up a few more rebounds and gave them extra possessions. I wasn't frustrated at all. I knew we would play together from start to finish."