Long Beach State forward Dan Jennings (35) pulls down a rebound over Cal… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)
Top-seeded Long Beach State versus injury-ravaged Cal State Fullerton went just as you might expect a game with that billing would go.
Fullerton's Titans were tenacious enough in Thursday night's opening round of the Big West Conference tournament. They just weren't deep enough.
Long Beach withstood Fullerton's pluckiness and slow-it-down pace to emerge with a 75-66 victory at the Honda Center.
"It was grind for us all game," Long Beach Coach Dan Monson said.
The 49ers advance to Friday's 6:30 p.m. semifinal game against UC Irvine. Pacific faces Cal Poly in the late semifinal.
The winner of Saturday's title game earns an automatic bid into next week's NCAA tournament.
Monson said "you have to fight through stuff" to make it that far.
Plagued by injuries all year, Fullerton was down to four scholarship players and jumped ball without starters Sammy Yeager (back) and D.J. Seeley (fractured toe).
Titans Coach Andy Newman thought his only chance was to milk the shot clock and win a clunky, disjointed game. "We knew we needed to shorten the game and keep the possessions down to give us a chance," Newman said. "We did that, we dictated tempo."
Long Beach might have even been nervous when Jordan Knox hit a three-pointer with 7 minutes 31 seconds left to pull Fullerton to within four at 58-54.
Long Beach (19-12) responded with an 11-3 run that started with a Mike Caffey layup and ended with a layup by Deng Deng.
Rugged as it was, Monson said the final score was a shootout compared to his days at Minnesota.
"Not exactly a Big Ten brawl," he said. "I've been in slower games, believe me."
Long Beach was too deep and big. The 49ers out-rebounded the Titans, 37-18.
Fullerton started four players 6 feet 4 or shorter.
"Obviously," Titans senior guard Kwame Vaughn said, "we need some more size."
Long Beach senior James Ennis, the Big West player of the year, finished with 15 points and nine rebounds.
Vaughn and Alex Harris each had 19 points for Fullerton (14-18).
Pacific 71, UC Santa Barbara 68: No. 2 Pacific narrowly avoided the early upset after blowing a 19-point, first-half lead. Santa Barbara had two late chances to win in a thoroughly crazy finish. Down by one, Santa Barbara's Kyle Boswell intentionally fouled Pacific's Lorenzo McCloud with 9.4 seconds left. After a lengthy replay review, officials also assessed McCloud with a dead-ball technical foul for throwing an elbow.
McCloud, an 80% foul shooter, went first to the line and missed both attempts. Boswell, a 76% shooter, could have given Santa Barbara the lead but missed both his technical attempts.
"Pressure is a weird animal," Santa Barbara Coach Bob Williams said.
Santa Barbara (11-20) got a final possession but freshman guard Michael Bryson, who finished with a game-high 29 points, missed an open-look jumper. Colin Beatty (26 points) made two free throws with 0.7 seconds left to seal the win for Pacific (20-12).
Cal Poly 64, UC Davis 41: Dylan Royer led all scorers with 17 points as the third-seeded Mustangs easily advanced to the semifinal round. Cal Poly (18-12) has already defeated UCLA this season and is enjoying its best season in 19 years playing at the Division I level. The Mustangs are two wins from earning their first NCAA bid.
Cal Poly held the Big West's best shooting team to 36% (16 of 44), while no player scored in double figures for UC Davis (14-17).
UC Irvine 71, Hawaii 60: The fourth-seeded Anteaters (19-14) were on cruise-control after taking a 22-point halftime lead before No. 5 Hawaii (17-14) made things interesting with an 11-0 run to start the second half.
Forward Will Davis II led Irvine with 13 points.