FULLERTON, Calif. -- In a game where neither team led by more than six points the entire way, it was Sacramento State that made the big plays late in a 62-59 road win at Cal State Fullerton on Saturday evening at Titan Gym.
Though the game remained close throughout, Sacramento State led for over 33 minutes of game clock, including the last 10:15 of the contest. During those final 10 minutes, the Hornets led by anywhere between one and six points. Cal State Fullerton cut the deficit to one point on three occasions over the final 2:07. That included a pair of free throws from Austen Awosika with 18 seconds left to draw the Titans within, 58-57, of the Sacramento State lead.
That set up perhaps the biggest play of the game. After the two made free throws, Sacramento State called timeout and drew up a play that saw Bryce Fowler, from the baseline, throw a baseball pass the length of the floor to hit a streaking Brandon Davis for a layup and a three-point lead (60-57) with 16 seconds left. The Hornets forced a 3-point miss on Fullerton's next possession, and Elijah McCullough grabbed the rebound with six seconds remaining. After he was quickly fouled, McCullough calmly buried both free throws to put the game away. The Titans scored a meaningless bucket at the buzzer to provide the final 62-59 outcome.
With the victory, Sacramento State improved to 6-1, becoming just the second team in program history (1948-pres.), and first at the Div. I level (1991-pres.) to win six of its first seven games. The only other Sacramento state squad to accomplish the feat was the 1985-86 team during the Div. II era. No team in school history has ever started a season 7-1.
In addition, the Hornets won their third game away from home, including a road win at Pepperdine and a neutral court victory against UC Davis. In fact, the only loss Sacramento State has suffered all season came at 21st-ranked Colorado, and the Hornets trailed in that gave by just five points with under four minutes to play.
The loss dropped Cal State Fullerton to 3-7 on the young season. The Hornets and Titans have now played each other three consecutive years and each of those games have been decided by five points or less. Sacramento State won last year at the Nest in overtime while the Titans won two years ago at home as part of the Wooden Legacy.
Once again, the Hornets' defense was on display. For the sixth time this year, Sacramento State held an opponent to under 60 points while limiting the Titans to 38% (20-53) shooting from the field, and 4-of-14 from the 3-point line. Sacramento State also turned 13 Cal State Fullerton turnovers into 12 points. Sacramento State didn't shoot much better from the field - 40% (19-47) from the floor and 1-of-7 from distance - but did bury 74% (23-31) of its free throw opportunities. That included 14-of-18 from the charity stripe in the second half, and 10-for-12 during the game's final eight minutes.
For Sacramento State, which led at the half, 23-21, eight players cracked the scoring column, including junior Ethan Esposito who finished with 16 points, nine rebounds, three assists, one block and one steal. Fourteen of those points came in the second half, and he finished the game 8-for-10 from the free throw line. Esposito was also a game-high +14 in plus/minus rating.
Davis had 11 points, six rebounds, three assists and four steals in a team-high 37 minutes. The sophomore was 4-for-6 from the field and 3-of-4 from the free throw line. Bryce Fowler added nine points and four rebounds, Joshua Patton had seven points, and Osi Nwachukwu finished with six points and six rebounds.
Izayah Mauriohooho-Le'afa had five points and the Hornets' lone 3-pointer. The fourth-year senior has now buried at least one 3-ball in every game this season. Jordan Cooke-Harper added six points (2-2 FG, 2-2 FT) in 12 minutes of action. McCullough had two points and two rebounds.
For Cal State Fullerton, Awosika had a game-high 19 points while playing all 40 minutes. Brandon Kamga had 11 points and six rebounds, and Davon Clare led everyone with 11 rebounds.
Sacramento State will not play again until Saturday, Dec. 14, at Santa Clara for a 2:05 p.m. matchup. It is finals Week at Sacramento State next week.
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