Men’s basketball: Matadors fight valiantly before Fullerton’s clutch layup sinks them

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Men’s basketball: Matadors fight valiantly before Fullerton’s clutch layup sinks them

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Alonso Tacanga

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Aqeel Quinn's desperation shot from midcourt fell short and CSUN lost 70-68 to Fullerton Thursday night. Photo Credit: Daniel Hoyos / Contributing photographer

Going down the wire in a seesaw battle between teams in the opposite poles of the Big West Conference standings Thursday night, it was Cal State Fullerton’s turn at attempting to swing up on the scoreboard, and guard Kwame Vaughn delivered with a head-first driving layup to put his team up two.

Given only 3.8 seconds to shoot back, the Matadors were in a dangerous territory. Even more so because they were out of timeouts.

“We lost some timeouts I normally like to keep,” CSUN head coach Bobby Braswell said.

On a night in which the Matadors (5-13, 2-6 Big West) fought back relentlessly from a 10-point second half deficit against one of the best teams in the conference, the thought of converting one last time despite the time hurdle wasn’t implausible. Unfortunately for them, the magic ran out and Aqeel Quinn’s rushed 3-pointer from halfcourt was partially blocked and short, sending the Matadors to a heartbreaking 70-68 loss.

“(Braswell) said ‘there’s no timeouts, so if (the Titans) score, we just got to get it in and take the best shot we could possibly take,’” said CSUN guard Stephan Hicks, who led the team with 18 points.

While it made for great drama at the Matadome, perhaps the game didn’t have to come down to last-second shots. Despite shooting only 26 percent from the field in the second half, the Matadors got hot at the right time. CSUN erased a double-digit deficit and went up five after a 15-0 run that was capped by guard Josh Greene’s jumper with 4:42 to go.

Aided by consecutive CSUN possessions in which the Matadors didn’t even get a shot off, Fullerton (13-6, 5-2) went on a 6-0 run of its own to take the lead back. Vaughn’s 3-pointer with 2:34 to go gave the Titans a 67-66 lead.

“We didn’t execute very well,” Braswell said of his team’s empty offensive trips down the stretch.

Two Quinn free throws tied the game up at 68-68 with 1:15 to go. CSUN got a defensive stop, but couldn’t convert at the other end, setting up Vaughn’s heroics.

Prior to his game-winner, Vaughn had missed every shot not taken from beyond the three-point line. He finished with 15 points on 5-of-14 shooting. He was 4-of-11 on 3-pointers.

“We knew they were going to do that and we just weren’t able to stay in front of (Vaughn) and he got all the way to the rim,” Braswell said.

Coming into the game, the Titans, who were led by guard D.J. Seeley’s 20 points, were unbeaten (7-0) when they made 10 3-pointers or more in a game. Against the Matadors they made 10 of 26.

The Titans, the best three-point shooting team in the Big West, kept their streak alive, but CSUN went toe-to-toe with them and sank eight of 16 three-point tries, their best percentage of the season. Guard Vinnie McGhee, who scored 13 points, went 3-of-4 from downtown.

CSUN shot 56 percent in the first half, but still trailed Fullerton 38-37 at halftime as the Titans shot 50 percent. Fullerton made 44 percent of its field goals in the second period, but only two of 11 three-point tries.

Led by Greene, who scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half, the Matadors’ inspired rally had Fullerton on the ropes, but they couldn’t put it away.

“We got a lot of heart,” Greene said. “We scrapped and created a lot of plays to keep ourselves in the game. Those are the kind of plays you need in order to win games.”