FULLERTON, Calif. -- Long Beach State's James Ennis (23 points, 11 rebounds) and Keala King (12 points, 11 rebounds) each finished with double-doubles and the visiting 49ers broke open a one-possession game with an 8-0 run over a three-minute span late Saturday night, lifting them to an 81-71 win over host Cal State Fullerton in front of 2,013 fans at Titan Gym.
The loss was the second-straight for the Titans, who fell to 10-8 overall and 3-3 in the Big West Conference. Long Beach State snapped a three-game skid with the win, improving to 10-8 overall and remaining atop the league with a 6-1 mark.
"I'm really encouraged, to be honest, after tonight," Interim Head Coach Andy Newman said. "I thought the effort was really good, but it's apparent what we need to do to win. Thursday night (against UC Irvine), it was discouraging, because it was an 'effort' deal and I didn't know where we were going to be after that. Watching them come back, they played hard tonight and this team has got heart.
"We just didn't defensive rebound. They got a lot of extra shot attempts and their guys made plays. Their guys were more aggressive to the ball, quicker to the ball, wanted the ball a little bit more than we did. They had 18 offensive rebounds and I know a bunch of them were down the stretch and that's a testament to their guys."
Senior Sammy Yeager finished with 22 points and seven rebounds to lead Fullerton, which rebounded from a sluggish first half to shoot 42 percent after the break, but was limited to just 39 percent for the game. Senior D.J. Seeley added 17 points and nine rebounds and junior Deuce Johnson finished in double figures for the third-straight contest with 10 points.
Senior Kwame Vaughn, who entered the night leading the team in scoring, finished with just five points on 2-of-13 from the floor before fouling out with seven minutes to play, but did finish with seven assists against only one turnover.
A see-saw game that saw the score tied eight times and the lead change hands 16 times got tight down the stretch as Fullerton rallied from a six-point deficit with 11:14 to play to take a one-point lead on a coast-to-coast lay-up by Seeley after a steal to go up, 60-59, with 7:39 to go. A free throw and put-back off an offensive rebound regained the lead for the 49ers, but two free throws by Yeager brought the Titans back even at 62 with 6:24 to play.
Long Beach State would not lead by more than four over the next two minutes, as two more free throws by Yeager made it a one-possession contest at 70-68 in favor of the 49ers with 4:32 to play, but that would be as close as Fullerton would come. A lay-up by King jumpstarted an 8-0 run and Long Beach State finished the game with a 12-3 burst over the final three minutes to clinch the victory.
Deng Deng came off the bench to add 15 points and six rebounds while Mike Caffey added 15 points, five rebounds, and five assists for the 49ers, who overcame 18 turnovers on the night, but outrebounded the Titans, 51-31, for the game. King also added seven assists in the win as the visitors shot just over 47 percent from the floor for the contest, including a 50 percent clip in the second half.
"We've overcome a lot of adversity and I'm really proud of how hard we played," Newman said. "We didn't play well but, I think, now we have the answer and we will go as our defensive rebounding goes. If we can get five guys to commit to rebounding the ball, five guys commit to blocking out and getting the ball back, we'll win. The offense will come, but we have the answer. We played the best team in the league to a one possession game and we got outrebounded, 51-31 -- that's 20 extra possessions.
"It's gonna be defensive rebounding. We're going to work on it all week long. We might not do a single drill other than defensive rebounding. We'll fix the problem and, the good news is, I know the problem will get fixed because we have good guys in that locker room. Good character, very coachable, and they all want to do what is necessary to win. If I didn't have that in that locker room, I'd be really worried right now."
With Fullerton up one, 21-20, with 7:16 remaining in the first half, a 14-4 run over a four-minute span proved decisive in helping Long Beach State to the halftime advantage as the 49ers built their largest lead of the game to that point at nine points, 34-25, with 3:07 remaining. A three-point play by Vaughn and a tip-in by Jared Brandon brought the Titans back to within four, but a Caffey lay-up in the final 30 seconds sent Long Beach State to the locker room up six, 36-30, at the break.
Cal State Fullerton returns to the court, this time on the road, next weekend as the Titans make the trek to Northern California for contests at UC Davis and Pacific. Fullerton will tip-off against the Aggies on Thursday (Jan. 24) at 7 p.m. before meeting the Tigers on Saturday (Jan. 26), also at 7 p.m.