UCSB went cold in the second half and couldn’t stop Cal State Fullerton’s Khalil Ahmad in the paint and suffered a 64-58 loss to the Titans in the Big West Tournament men’s basketball semifinals on Friday night at the Honda Center in Anaheim.
The Gauchos had a 10-point lead in the second half, 45-35, with 11:38 to go, but cold-shooting and Ahmad’s dominant play inside enabled Fullerton to come back. Ahmad had 28 points and the Titans scored 40 points in the paint.
The Gauchos (22-10), who lost starting point guard Devearl Ramsey with a groin injury 12 minutes into the game, missed their last 10 field goal attempts over the final 7:07 and the Titans (16-16) took full advantage.
“We had to play some of our backcourt players more minutes than they’re used to and they had to bring the ball up the court all night,” said UCSB head coach Joe Pasternack. “Max (Heidegger) and JaQuori (McLaughlin) did a good job with that, but we just stopped making shots and that was the game.”
Fullerton tied the score 54-54 on a Davon Clare layup with 3:29 left in regulation.
Amadou Sow made 1-of-2 free throws on consecutive possessions to give the Gauchos a 56-54 lead at the 2:13 mark.
Kyle Allman made a couple of key blocks down the stretch to give Fullerton a lift. A block of a UCSB 3-point attempt resulted in a score by Ahmad to give the Titans a 58-56 lead with 1:12 to go.
Ahmad made three free throws in the last 27 seconds and finished off the Gauchos with a dunk after Heidegger missed a three-point basket with seven seconds left.
Heidegger and Sow led UCSB with 14 points each.
“All year these guys honored the process,” Pasternack said. “We really had to replace all five starters from last year and we’ve accomplished a lot. We’ll have seven of our top nine players back next season and there is a lot to be excited about.”
Fullerton and UC Irvine will meet for the Big West title on Saturday night. It will be a rematch between the school’s that competed for the championship in 2018 and the Titans will be looking to repeat.