RIVERSIDE, Calif. – The Cal State Fullerton men's basketball team erased a 20-point deficit in the final three minutes of action to win its Big West Conference opener at UC Riverside 79-73. The Titans (8-6, 1-0 BWC) were led to victory by five double-figure scorers, while the Highlanders (9-8, 0-1 BWC) saw four players reach double-figures in the game.
The Titans received a huge offensive surge from junior guard Lionheart Leslie as he scored eight of his 12 total points in the final 2:55. Leslie's three pointer off a pass from Coggins pulled Fullerton within three (67-64), before making the backend of a pair of free throws to make it a two-point game (67-65). With two minutes on the clock, Leslie hit a jumper to even the score for the first time all game (67-67).
With the momentum of having just knocked down eight straight points, the Titans turned to Coggins, the team's leading scorer, as he drained a jumper from beyond the arc to give Cal State Fullerton its first lead of the game, 70-67.
But Fullerton wasn't done yet. The Titans scored 13 straight points to jump ahead of the Highlanders 72-67 with just 1:01 remaining. Despite UCR's efforts, the Highlanders were unable to regain the lead as the Titans led by as many as seven points (76-69) before winning the game, 79-73.
"That was a great way for us to open up conference play," Cal State Fullerton head coach Dedrique Taylor said before quickly adding, "except for the first 32 minutes. This was a good test for our guys. We did a good job hanging in there until the end."
Coggins finished the game with 25 points to tie his career high. He also added four assists and two rebounds. Khalil Ahmad posted 14 points, while Malcolm Brooks and Leslie contributed 12 points each, and Jamar Akoh added a season-best 10 points.
Ahmad, along with Kennedy Esume, pulled down a team-best six rebounds, while Akoh posted five.
UCR received strong showings from Jaylen Bland (19 points), Secean Johnson (17 points), Taylor Johns (15 points) and Malik Thames (11 points).
Although Fullerton came away with the win, UC Riverside opened the game on a 10-0 run forcing the Titans to utilize a timeout early in the first half. Akoh got the Titans on the board with a pair of made free throws at 14:54. UCR held control of the game early as Fullerton was unable to connect on a field goal until Kennedy Esume hit a layup to make it a 13-4 game at 13:30.
Despite the Titans' efforts, the Highlanders held them to just eight made field goals in the first half and only a pair of made three-pointers. Fullerton scored most of its points off of free throws as the Titans were 9-for-11 from the charity stripe and went into halftime trailing the Highlanders 39-27.
In the second half, the game got out of hand quickly, but Cal State Fullerton refused to quit as it slowly chipped away at UCR's lead. Fullerton managed to cut the lead down to single-digits (61-53) with 6:36 remaining in the game after a layup by Akoh. From there, the Titans closed the gap and made it a one-possession game (67-64) after Leslie's three at 2:55.
The rest, as they say, is history as the Titans put the game away in the final minute of action outscoring the Highlanders 52-34 in the frame to kick off Big West Conference action in the win column.
Fullerton finished the game shooting 43.8 percent from the field, 42.1 percent from beyond the arc and 74.4 percent from the free throw line. The Titans led the Highlanders in steals (7-4) and bench points (26-11), however UCR owned the edge in rebounding (31-30), assists (12-10), blocks (3-2) and second chance points (13-8).
Cal State Fullerton looks to bring the momentum from tonight's win into its home contest against CSUN on Saturday, Jan. 9, at 6 p.m. Live stats, video and audio will be available on FullertonTitans.com.