March 16, 2009
James Nunnally scored 15 points and four UC Santa Barbara teammates also were in double figures Thursday night as the Gauchos pulled away for a 73-64 victory over Cal State Fullerton in the quarterfinals of the Big West Conference Men's Basketball Tournament at the Anaheim Convention Center.
Josh Akognon had 23 points in his final game for the Titans and Jacques Streeter added 15 points and 6 assists. No. 7-seeded Fullerton finished its season with a 15-17 record . No. 4-seed UCSB, which twice blew double-digit leads in regular season losses to Fullerton, used a late 12-1 run to erase a 56-53 Fullerton lead. UCSB plays No. 1-seeded Cal State Northridge in the semifinals Friday. No. 2-seeded Long Beach State plays No. 3-seeded Pacific, which beat UC Davis, 67-60, earlier Thursday night.
After Streeter hit a 3-point field goal for a 51-49 lead at 7:50, the Titans did not get another field goal until Akognon scored on a drive with 45 seconds left.
Two Gerard Anderson free throws gave Fullerton its 56-53 lead at 5:09. Paul Roemer hit two free throws and Nunnally scored on a drive and UCSB had the lead at 57-56 Streeter hit one of two free throws to tie the game for the eleventh time at 57 at 4:04 but the Gauchos scored the next 8 points to take command at 65-57. Fullerton got as close as 5 points but UCSB hit its last 8 free throws in the final 42 seconds.
"It was a hard-fought game and I liked the way we were playing," said CSF Coach Bob Burton. "We were right where we wanted to be up until the end. We've had trouble scoring against a zone all year. They stepped up and made shots at the end and deserved to win.
"We had no inside presence all year and that allowed the defenses to keep extending out. UCSB has been playing well lately."
Freshman Will Brew scored all 13 of his points in the second half for UCSB. Chris Devine had 14 and Paul Roemer and Sam Phippen each had 10.
Aaron Thompson led all rebounders with 8, one shy of his season's high. But UCSB won the battle of the boards, 33-28.
The first half was a defensive coach's dream. Both teams struggled to get or make good shots. The Titans shot 25 percent and scored only 20 points, a season low. UCSB shot 39 percent and took a 26-20 lead into the locker room by scoring the final 9 points of the half as Fullerton failed to score after a Thompson free throw at 4:31.
Akognon, who was held to 5 points in the first half, scored 8 points in the first 68 seconds of the second half to tie the game at 28. From that point neither team led by more than 4 points until UCSB's decisive 8-0 run.
Akognon finished his season with a school record 764 points, which rank No.6 in Big West history. His two-year Titan career total of 1,411 points puts him at No. 7 on the Titans' list and it's the most for a 2-year player.
"The whole season was a disappointment," said Akognon. "Tonight we had it at the end but some free throws didn't drop and we didn't get stops. But all in all, it was good. Coach Burton is the best coach I've ever played for."
"I'm going to miss Josh," said Streeter, who ranks in the Top Ten in six offensive categories for CSF freshmen. "It was a great experience playing with him. Defenses collapsed on him and all the attention he got made me better."
Streeter played 38 minutes and had only 2 of the Titans' 11 turnovers.
"I wouldn't trade Jacques for any freshman," said Burton. "He has been phenomenal for us.
"And I've never experienced coaching a player like Josh who can shoot and score like he did. We knew this season would be difficult losing 7 seniors. I'm glad our seniors (Akognon and Marcio Lassiter) got to experience last year's NCAA Tournament.
"We have to get some guys who can score. If Josh didn't score this year, we had a tough time winning."
Akognon closed out his career with a streak of 44 games with at least one 3-point field goal, the longest active streak in the nation.