Cal State Fullerton Dispatches Hawai’i in Big West Quarterfinal Overtime Thriller


HENDERSON, N.V. — For the second time this season, the Hawai’i men’s basketball team fell to Cal State Fullerton in a tightly-contested game that went to overtime. Hawai’i lost on Thursday, 62-60.

It is the third time this season the Titans have beaten the ‘Bows and fourth consecutive win in the series for Fullerton. Hawai’i bowed out of the Big West Tournament last season after a loss to the Titans.

Turnovers, a problem in conference games early in the schedule, became an issue again for the ‘Bows as the fifth-seeded Rainbow Warriors had 18 giveaways compared to just 4 from the Titans. 

Defensive Chess Match: Titans vs Warriors

Coming into the game, Hawai’i and Cal State Fullerton ranked first and second in scoring defense this season for Big West teams. As Eran Ganot has said consistently throughout the season, every game against Big West opponents is a hard-fought battle. 

Thursday’s quarterfinal between the defending Big West Tournament champions and the ‘Bows would be more of the same.

Hawai’i started with a clear emphasis on getting the ball inside, trying to exploit the size advantage they had against the four-guard starting lineup of the Titans. It worked to the tune of a 9-1 lead for the ‘Bows just five minutes into the game. 

First-half fouls mixed with a rough half shooting the basketball by Hawai’i showed up for the rest of the half. Cal State Fullerton entered the single bonus with over 12 minutes remaining in the opening half of play and entered the double bonus with 6 minutes left in the first half. 

On top of their ability to draw contact going to the rim, the elite defensive team turned the ‘Bows over eight times compared to just one throw-away for the Titans through the first 20 minutes of play. Combined, Cal State Fullerton survived a first half in which they shot just 32% from the field and 22% from 3-point land to enter the break down one, 28-27.

Despite the turnovers and fouls, Hawai’i entered the locker rooms with wins in the rebounding margin and scoreboard. Much like the story for most of the season, the ‘Bows defense made up for a lackluster offensive output. 

Though the Rainbow Warriors continued to lead for much of regulation, the Titans continued to hang around within six points. A Samuta Avea bucket with 6:28 to go in regulation gave Hawai’i the lead, 50-49, but it would be the last ‘Bows basket until the 46 second mark.  

Fullerton once again stormed ahead, as Max Jones scored six of seven points as the Titans looked to close out the ‘Bows in regulation with a five-point lead and under a minute to go.

JoVon McClanahan hit a tough turn-around jumper to cut the lead to three with 46 seconds left, and the ‘Bows would get a defensive stop on a strange (albeit correct) shot clock violation call.

Following a Fullerton timeout with 5 seconds left, Hawai’i went to guard Noel Coleman. The Belgian southpaw got the defender to fly by with a shot fake, reset his feet and knocked down the game-tying triple at the buzzer to send the quarterfinal game to overtime. 

Oh No, Overtime…

The Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors kept their season alive a bit longer with the heroics of Coleman, but overtime once again proved to be an enemy of the ‘Bows. Hawai’i dropped to 0-3 this season in overtime games, two of which came at the hands of Fullerton.

McClanahan scored the first four points of overtime for the ‘Bows, but Jones hit a corner 3-pointer right in front of the Titans bench to tie the game at 60-all as the clock ticked under three minutes. 

The teams traded offensive fouls on the next couple of possessions before Latrell Wrightsell Jr. came up with the ball off another UH turnover to put Cal State Fullerton ahead by two with 1:13 left in overtime.

Avea could not get a 3-pointer to go down, but the ‘Bows got another stop and an opportunity to tie with McClanahan at the line for a pair of free throws and 3 seconds left on the clock.

McClanahan left the first shot short and was forced to intentionally miss the second, which was rebounded by the Titans as the clock expired.

Avea led the way for Hawai’i in likely his final game for his home school and home state, recording a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Coleman chipped in 14 points for the ‘Bows, including the huge 3-pointer to send the game to overtime. Kamaka Hepa had 7 points and 12 rebounds in what was his probable Hawai’i finale.

Max Jones was the catalyst in the comeback win for the Titans, chipping in 18 points and six rebounds. Wrightsell Jr., who had the game-winning basket for Fullerton, ended the afternoon with a double-double of his own with 14 points and 10 boards.

#4 Cal State Fullerton now advances to the Big West semifinals on Friday, March 10 to take on #1 UC Irvine. The Anteaters were 75-51 winners over CSU Bakersfield earlier on Thursday.