FULLERTON, Calif. – Cal State Fullerton held off UC Riverside, 78-73, in the closing seconds of Thursday night's Big West Conference opener as five Titans scored in double figures led by Michael Williams' 21 points at Titan Gym.
With the win, Fullerton (6-9, 1-0 Big West) snaps a two-game losing streak, but extends its home-winning streak to three games at Titan Gym. The Titans also won their third consecutive Big West Conference opener.
Williams, who has now reached double figures in 15 consecutive games and has scored 20 points or more on four occasions this year, finished the game shooting 8-of-12 from the floor playing 37 minutes.
The Titans, who led by as many as 15 in the game, held a 56-41 advantage with 10:15 remaining, and still led by double digits, 68-57, with 1:35 to go before UC Riverside (5-10, 0-1) began to chip away.
Sam Finley's only three-pointer of the game cut Fullerton's lead to single digits, and the Titans missed two opportunities at the line while UCR made 4-of-5 as the Highlanders closed to 68-64 with just under a minute to play.
Fullerton's Marquis Horne was fouled on the ensuing inbound playing, hitting 1-of-2 at the free-throw line, while Taylor Johns was fouled on UCR's next possession, making both of his freebies as Fullerton clung to a 69-66 advantage with 39 seconds left.
Once again, Horne was 1-of-2 at the line during Fullerton's next possession, and Nick Gruninger was perfect for UCR at the stripe as the Highlanders brought their deficit within two, 70-68, but Fullerton made its final eight free-throw attempts to hold off the UCR rally.
The Highlanders missed two of their next three field goal attempts and were forced to continue to foul.
Steve McClellan matched a season high with 13 points and produced his second double-double of the year, also matching a season best grabbing 12 rebounds.
Alex Harris poured in 13 points for the Titans, nearly all from the free-throw line shooting 10-of-12 from the stripe – setting a career high and season best for any Titan.
Horne added 11 points, and Gentry recorded his third straight game scoring in double figures off the bench with 12 points, knocking down two buckets from long distance in the first half.
Fullerton shot 43.9 percent from the floor, and held UCR to a clip of 39.7 percent as both teams committed 13 turnovers each.
UCR held a 38-32 advantage in the paint as Johns recorded a double-double of 21 points and 10 rebounds. Steven Thornton poured in 14 points while Finley added 13 for UCR. Rebounds were also even at 37 apiece.
Fullerton made 17-of-25 free throw attempts in the second half.
Led by Williams' 15 first-half points, Cal State Fullerton held a healthy 36-29 lead over UC Riverside at the break as the Titans shot 41.9 percent from the floor and nailed five three-pointers in the first 20 minutes.
UC Riverside led 10-9 after a Chris Harriel three-pointer, but Fullerton produced a 12-1 run that pushed the Titan lead to 21-11 with 10:30 to play in the half.
During that stretch Harris scored five points for Fullerton while Williams converted a three-point play and Chris Collins and James Johnson contributed two lay-ups, while UCR was held without a field goal for over six minutes.
The Highlanders would fashion a quick 6-0 run to close 21-17, but that is the closest they would come in the first half as Fullerton pushed away again on a 15-4 run taking a 36-21 advantage after Gentry's second trey of the half with 2:57 left until the break.
The Titans return to the road on Thursday, Jan. 16 making the short trip to UC Irvine. The game is scheduled for a 7 p.m. start and will be broadcast on ESPN3.
Notes: Cal State Fullerton won its Big West opener for the third straight season and now holds a 14-26 record in Big West openers…this was the first time Fullerton and UC Riverside played one another in the Big West opener…in the win, Fullerton snapped a two-game losing streak and the Titans have now won three straight games at Titan Gym…Michael Williams finished the game with 21 points, scoring in double figures for the 15th straight game and scoring at least 20 points for the fourth time this year…Cal State Fullerton had five players score in double figures for the first time this season…Alex Harris' 10 free throws set a new career high and set a new Titan season high…Steve McClellan recorded his second double-double of the year.