Cal State Fullerton edges UC Irvine, stays perfect in Big West

View Original Notice ? Cal State Fullerton edges UC Irvine, stays perfect in Big West

IRVINE — E.J. Anosike has brought something new to the Cal State Fullerton men’s basketball team.

Anosike showed just how valuable he has become to the Titans in less than half a season, scoring 16 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in a 65-63 Big West Conference victory over UC Irvine on Thursday night at the Bren Events Center.

The Titans (10-5 overall, 4-0 Big West) have won their first four conference games for the first time since the 2017-18 season.

“It’s a big statement for them, in terms of staying together and making it happen,” Fullerton coach Dedrique Taylor said.

Anosike, who played three seasons at Sacred Heart before playing sparingly last season at Tennessee, has been the tip of the sword this season.

Taylor said it’s not just the statistics that make Anosike valuable, but his toughness and ability to bring the team together.

“He talks in the timeouts, he talks in the huddles. It’s just a different level of togetherness that these guys are responding to,” Taylor said.

Anosike’s final basket of the night gave the Titans a 62-59 lead with 1:22 left.

Collin Welp made a turnaround jumper from the baseline to pull the Anteaters within one with 27 seconds left, but the Titans shot 3 for 4 from the line in the final 20 seconds before DJ Davis missed a potential game-tying basket at the buzzer.

Davis finished with 19 points off the bench to lead UCI (6-6, 1-2).

“In the offseason, we haven’t gotten our team ready enough, our players ready enough, to assert ourselves at the basket,” said UCI coach Russ Turner, who has led the Anteaters to five Big West titles and two trips to the NCAA Tournament in the past eight seasons. “That’s something we’ve done as a program for a long time. Right now, we’re not able to do that and I’m surprised by that.”

The Anteaters didn’t get much production from their two leading scorers in the first half.

Welp, who averages a team-best 15 points, was subbed out early after committing a turnover and a defensive foul. He took one shot in the first half and scored two of his 15 points.

Dawson Baker, second on the Anteaters at 11 points per game, missed all five of his shots in the first half and went scoreless until there were nine minutes left in the game.

“We wanted to defend, we wanted to rebound. This is a big key, and then we wanted to get out in transition,” Taylor said. “They’re a good basketball team, so you’ve got to take something away from them, and we did that tonight.”

UCI 7-footer Bent Leuchten got a chance to contribute more than usual in the first half, making all three of his field-goal attempts and scoring six points, which also bettered his season average (4.1).

UCI made the first basket of the game but didn’t lead again until Davis made back-to-back 3-pointers for a 57-55 lead with 4:19 left.

The Titans took their biggest lead of the opening half at 30-19 on two free throws by Damari Milstead with 2:38 left.

The Anteaters came back with five straight points before Fullerton ultimately took a 32-24 lead into intermission.

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