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Fullerton surges to defeat Long Beach, 77-74

Back-to-back three-pointers shift the momentum to the Titans, whose 77-74 win keeps the 49ers from finishing undefeated in Big West Conference play.

March 03, 2012|By Diane Pucin

The momentum came suddenly, as quickly as the split seconds it took Isiah Umipig and D.J. Seeley to catch and release three-point shots, back-to-back in the space of about 40 seconds Saturday at Titan Gymnasium.

Umipig's three pulled Cal State Fullerton within a point of Long Beach State, and Seeley's gave Fullerton the lead — for good, it turned out.

And with that, Long Beach, which had come to Fullerton on Saturday looking for perfection, instead left bruised and beaten.

Fullerton kept the 49ers from finishing without a loss in the Big West Conference with a 77-74 win.

The win gives the Titans (21-8, 12-4 Big West) at least a tie for second in the conference and clinched the second seed in the conference tournament, which begins Thursday at Honda Center.

For the 49ers (22-8, 15-1), the loss was symbolically and physically painful.

They'd already clinched the regular-season conference title. They had hoped to become the ninth team in Big West history to go unbeaten during conference play, an honor that might also have helped them overcome a slip-up in the upcoming Big West tournament and help guarantee an NCAA tournament at-large bid.

Instead, besides the lost game, Long Beach might have also lost a key starter. Senior forward Larry Anderson, who is the 49ers' second-leading scorer and rebounder, sat out the final 15 minutes because of a knee injury, and Coach Dan Monson is concerned.

"With knees you don't know," Monson said. "Those are not usually a one- or two-day thing. I'm more concerned, not with what happened this game but for next week." Anderson is scheduled for an MRI exam Monday morning.

Anderson's right knee crumpled when teammate Casper Ware fell into it, making a bad day even worse for Ware. Ware, Long Beach's leading scorer, two for 15 from the field and finished with 10 points. He entered the game with a 17.3-point average.

Even with Anderson sidelined, the 49ers seemed to gain control of the close game when forward T.J. Robinson tipped in a rebound to put Long Beach ahead by seven, 65-58, with 6:41 left.

Immediately, though, Seeley responded with a three-pointer that kick-started an 11-2 Titans run that also included the momentous back-to-back threes.

"We just hung in there," Fullerton Coach Bob Burton said. "They had the chance at that stage to put us out. But then they got in a zone defense; we hit those two three-pointers against the zone. We just did a nice job of attacking."

The Titans also did a good job of making clutch free throws. Another Robinson rebound basket tied the game at 69 with 1:21 left. Fullerton didn't score another basket after that but made eight straight free throws in the final 54.8 seconds.

Seeley, who finished with a game-high 27 points, made four of those. "I'm not a great foul shooter," said Seeley, who hits 71.9% from the foul line, "but I had been practicing."

And sometimes practice does make perfect.

diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin

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