FULLERTON, Calif. – Fullerton has a huge fourth quarter to bring themselves back into the game and end up forcing two overtimes, but ultimately come up short losing to UTEP 92-91. For the Titans it was their first overtime game since 2015 and first double overtime game since 2010.
"What a great game to be a part of tonight," said head coach Jeff Harada. "It's just a bummer that someone had to lose, but I'm extremely proud of the fight our team showed. Coming back from an 18-point deficit to force double overtime showed a lot of grit and character. Credit UTEP for making one more play than we did, but I definitely thought we had our chances."
The Titans had five players reach double-figures led by junior Jade Vega who set career-highs with 24 points and 7 rebounds. Senior China Henderson and junior Hannah Thompson both had 16 points off the bench in the effort while freshmen Triann Thompson and Carolyn Gill were clutch down the stretch finishing with 13 points each. Junior Daeja Smith saw her double-figure scoring streak come to an end, but led the team with nine rebounds.
UTEP saw four double-figure scorers led by Tamara Seda who recorded a double-double with 30 points and 12 rebounds. Katarina Zec put up 21 points on 8-13 shooting (3-4 from three), while Najala Howell had 16 points. Zuzanna Puc was the final double-digit scorer for the Miners recording 12 points off the bench.
It was all Miners the first half as they came out of the gates on fire. Shooting 9-14 (64.3%) from the field in the first quarter they had a double-digit lead after just the first quarter. Howell was the key scorer for them early putting up 12 points on 5-5 shooting in the first quarter. The second quarter was more of the same as UTEP continued to shoot the lights out going 10-14 (71.4%) from the field and reaching their largest lead of 18 points with just 30 seconds left in the half. A Henderson jumper beat the buzzer and the Titans trailed 48-32 at the break.
Fullerton came into the second half a much better-looking team. Their defense stepped up holding UTEP to 41.7% shooting while their offense shot almost 60% for the quarter. Led by six points from Gill, the Titans outscored the Miners in the third quarter and began what would turn into an outstanding comeback.
The fourth quarter started out slow for both teams as it took over two minutes before a shot was made. However, that shot came from H. Thompson beyond the arc and started a tremendous run for Fullerton. CSF would end up going on a 15-0 scoring to take the lead with 2:30 left to play. For the quarter, the Titan defense was rock solid holding the Miners to just five points for the quarter and forcing six turnovers. With 15 seconds, UTEP's Alexander hit a free throw to push their lead to three. T. Thompson had other plans than letting this game in as she drained a three with six seconds on the clock and forced the first overtime.
It looked the end for Fullerton as they trailed by six points with just 39 seconds left on the clock. But a very rare five-point play courtesy of H. Thompson and Gill brought them within one point. After allowing a Seda layup on the other end, CSF had just seconds to come up with a play and Vega clutched up. A three-pointer from the wing with six seconds on the clock again tied the game back up and forced a second overtime. The second OT alone saw six different lead changes, four of which came in the final minute. Ultimately, a Puc jumper in the key proved to be the difference maker as Fullerton's buzzer beater attempt just missed and the Titans dropped a heartbreaker in just the third double overtime game in program history.
Harada continued, "Now that our non-conference games are done I think we showed as a team what we are capable of when each player does their part. Yes, we're young and undersized, but we know that and those can't be excuses now that we're heading into conference play. It's time to see what we've learned so far and I'm excited to see how we respond next week."
The Titans will start up conference play after the New Year with three straight home games. Hawai'i is the first of those as they come to Titan Gym for a matchup on Jan. 4 at 7:00 pm.
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