BACK AND FORTH GAME GOES FULLERTON’S WAY IN 68-63 WIN OVER MEN’S HOOPS

BACK AND FORTH GAME GOES FULLERTON’S WAY IN 68-63 WIN OVER MEN’S HOOPS

Wooden Legacy brackets

FULLERTON, Calif. -- Cal State Fullerton received a game-high 25 points from Khalil Ahmad (22 in the second half), and used a massive free throw disparity to eventually defeat Sacramento State, 68-63, in the second round of the Wooden Legacy Basketball Tournament on Friday evening.

The Hornets, who lost to San Diego State in the opening round of the four-day event, dropped to 0-2 at the Wooden Legacy and 1-5 overall this season. Sacramento State is playing in the eight-team Wooden Legacy for the first time in the tournament's 11-year existence, and wraps up  the event on Sunday with a game against Saint Joseph's at 11:30 a.m. on ESPN3. The Hornets will get an off day tomorrow.

Cal State Fullerton, which narrowly lost to Georgia in the first round of the tournament yesterday, improved to 1-1 at the event and 2-3 overall. Washington State and San Diego State will meet for the tournament championship on Sunday. All 12 games of the tournament (four on Thursday, four on Friday, four on Sunday) are being played at Titan Gym on the Cal State Fullerton campus. In addition, every game is being aired on an ESPN platform channel. Yesterday's Hornet game was televised on ESPNU while today's matchup was streamed on ESPN3.

Today's game featured 11 ties and eight lead changes, and neither team led by more than nine points the entire way. Only 46 combined points were scored in the first half as the Hornets and Titans were deadlocked at 23-23 at halftime. However, both teams shot much better in the second half as Cal State Fullerton held a 45-40 edge after halftime.

Cal State Fullerton never trailed during the final 13:57 of the game, but the Hornets were within one or two possessions of the Titan lead for a good portion of that time. The Titans gained some breathing room after they went on a 7-0 run to secure a game-high nine-point lead (57-48) with 6:44 to play. However, Sacramento State immediately bounced back as senior forward Justin Strings went on a personal 8-0 run, capped by a floater at the 4:14 mark to get the Hornets within, 57-56, of the Titan lead.

However, Cal State Fullerton went on an 11-7 run over the game's final four minutes with nine of those points coming from the free throw line. During that stretch, the Hornets were 2-for-8 from the field with two turnovers. After a 3-pointer from Strings made things a one-possession game (66-63) with 21 seconds remaining, Ahmad sunk a pair of free throws with 18 seconds left to put the game away.

Free throw shooting was a big reason Cal State Fullerton won tonight's game, as the Titans went 20-for-23 (.870) from the free throw line while the Hornets went just 4-for-7 from the line. Fullerton was a remarkable 18-for-19 from the charity stripe in the second half.

After opening the game shooting 5-for-19 from the field, Sacramento State recovered to shoot a respectable .406 (26-64) over the course of the game. However, the Hornets continued to struggle from the 3-point line, finishing just 7-for-22 (.318) from long range. Sacramento State is now shooting .309 (34-110) from distance this season. Cal State Fullerton shot .524 (22-42) from the field and .444 (4-9) from the 3-point line, and won despite attempting 24 less shots from the field than the Hornets. Sacramento State held a 32-30 advantage in the rebounding department, and limited Cal State Fullerton to just three offensive rebounds the entire way.

The Hornets were led by Strings' 22 points, six rebounds and four assists in a game-high 36 minutes. Eighteen of Strings' points came in the second half as he scored 14 of the Hornets' final 15 points of the game. It marked the 26th straight game Strings has scored in double digits.

It was Strings and guard Jordan Tolbert (15 points on 6-of-8 shooting, 3-of-5 from distance) that combined for 37 of the Hornets' 63 points. Point guard Izayah Mauriohooho-Le'afa finished with three steals, a career-high 12 assists and zero turnovers in 34 minutes. The 12 assists tied for the seventh best mark in Sacramento State's Div. I era (1991-pres.) and tied for the most ever in a Wooden Legacy game.

Joshua Patton added eight points and four offensive rebounds in 34 minutes. Of Patton's 35 rebounds this season, 18 have come on the offensive glass. True freshman Bryce Fowler started his first collegiate game, and responded with six points (2-of-3 from distance) and four rebounds in 29 minutes. Calvin Martin had five points and five rebounds, and Jeff Wu had four points and one steal in 35 minutes. Sacramento State drew four charges tonight, including two from Patton and one each from Mauriohooho-Le'afa and Martin.

Ahmad's 25 points came on 8-of-17 shooting from the field, 4-for-7 from the 3-point line and 5-of-5 from the free throw line. He scored 22 of Fullerton's 45 second-half points. Kyle Allman had 13 points and six rebounds, and Jackson Row added 10 points and seven rebounds.

Sunday's game against Saint Joseph's will mark the first time the Hornets have ever played the Hawks, who play in the Atlantic 10 Conference.