March 15, 2008
Anaheim, Calif. - For the first time in 30 years, the Cal State Fullerton men's basketball team is "dancing".
Tournament Most Valuable Player Josh Akognon scored a game-high 23 points while seniors Scott Cutley and Marcus Morgan each tallied double-doubles on the night as the third-seeded Titans defeated fifth-seeded UC Irvine, 81-66, to clinch the 2008 Big West Conference Tournament title and a trip to the NCAA Tournament in front of 4,234 fans on Saturday night at the Anaheim Convention Center.
Fullerton (24-8 overall) won only its second-ever Big West Tournament title - the last coming in 1978 when the Titans made their first and only NCAA Tournament appearance. The 24 victories are an NCAA school record and the win total ties the school's all-time record set by the 1961-62 squad that finished 24-7 overall, including the NAIA playoffs.
UC Irvine, which had won three games in three days, finished its season with an 18-16 overall record, becoming the lowest seed to reach the championship game since No. 6-seeded Cal State Northridge accomplished the feat in 2004.
Akognon hit 7-of-16 from the field and added five rebounds. Cutley finished with his ninth double-double of the year, scoring 22 points and grabbing 12 rebounds, while Morgan netted his first double-double of the season with 10 points and a career-high tying 11 rebounds. Senior Frank Robinson also finished in double figures with 12 points.
Darren Fells scored 21 points and had 10 rebounds to lead the Anteaters, who were looking to make their first-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Michael Hunter and Patrick Sanders also finished in double figures with 14 and 11 points, respectively.
The Titans trailed for the first time in their last four games when UCI's Patrick Rembert scored the first basket of the game. Fullerton trailed by a single point at 6-5 before exploding for nine straight points to take a 14-6 lead six minutes in. The Titans led by as many as 13 points in the first half as Akognon hit three free throws with :04 remaining, but Hunter banked in a three-pointer at the buzzer to bring the deficit back to 10 points at 37-27 at halftime.
Cal State Fullerton, which lost only twice when trailing at halftime this season, wasn't about to make it three as the Titans went on a 12-3 run after the Anteaters had closed the gap to single digits to build an 18-point advantage and they never looked back.
A 12-4 run by UC Irvine late in the half brought the Anteaters back to within 10 points, scoring on seven of nine trips down the court, but a dunk by Morgan sparked a 5-0 run to close out the game as the Titans became the first No. 3 seed to win the tournament since Utah State did it in 2003.
Fullerton shot 53 percent from the field for the game to UCI's 37 percent and the Titans held a 36-31 advantage on the boards.
2008 BIG WEST ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM Josh Akognon, Cal State Fullerton (Most Valuable Player) Scott Cutley, Cal State Fullerton Frank Robinson, Cal State Fullerton Darren Fells, UC Irvine Tremaine Townsend, Cal State Northridge Larry Cunningham, UC Riverside