Titans bounce back against Northridge

After a dismal finish to end the regular season, the Cal State Fullerton men's basketball team regrouped to defeat Cal State Northridge 84-76 in the first round of the Big West Tournament.

“I think we feel fortunate to win and I thought we played very well tonight,” Titan Head Coach Bob Burton said.

In a battle of teams that thrive on transition basketball, CSUF locked down on the defensive end.

CSUN could not overcome the Titans’ swarming pressure, which led to 24 points off turnovers.

“The defense all night was terrific,” Burton said.

The No. 5 Titans held the No. 8 Matadors to just 39.1 percent shooting.

“Tonight we were all on one keel,” Burton said.

Redshirt junior forward Jer’Vaughn Johnson dominated the interior – 20 points and 12 rebounds – with his fifth double-double of the season in large part because CSUN’s leading rebounder, junior forward Lenny Daniel sat out because of academic reasons.

“I take the same approach to every game,” Johnson said. “Him (Daniel) not playing really helped us out.”

Junior guard Devon Peltier made five three-pointers on his way to 19 points.

“He hit some major shots tonight which were important,” Burton said. “V.I. coming in and really made the difference.”

The Matador zone defense put Peltier in a groove offensively.

“My eyes do light up when I see a zone,” Peltier said. “They were face-guarding me most of the night. I just try to find gaps in the zone or get open in the corner and they pop it out to me.”

In the early going, both teams stuck to their strengths, pushing the pace and not allowing the defense to set up.

The game started with CSUN jumping out to an early 9-4 lead.

Peltier’s three-pointer tied the game at 15-15.

The Matadors retaliated with a 6-0 run before Peltier ended it with another shot from beyond the arc.

CSUN’s hopes were diminished when Matador senior forward Willie Galick committed two fouls with 10:55 to go.

“I thought the turning point of the game was when Galick got two fouls because we couldn’t guard him and he was causing a lot of problems,” Burton said.

After an Anderson layup with 6:50 left in the game, the layup put the Titans up 26-25 and they did not relinquish the lead for the rest of the half.

With three seconds left, sophomore guard Jacques Streeter’s layup gave the Titans their largest lead of the half at 12.

The Titans finished the half on a 21-8 run and led 45-33 at halftime.

In the final 4:53 of the first period, the Titans did not allow CSUN to make a field goal.

At the start of the second half, the game was seesawing back and forth with CSUF’s double-digit lead still intact.

With 11:24 to go and the Matadors threatening, the Titans made a couple of key defensive plays that led to a fast break where Anderson jumped over CSUN’s redshirt sophomore guard Vinnie McGhee for a thunderous dunk that had the crowd buzzing.

“Guys always say dunks are only two points are really out of it because that’s a touchdown,” Burton said. “We all love that and it really fired our team up.”

CSUN did not let the momentum shift and cut CSUF’s lead to 57-52 with 8:58 to go.

However, the Titans shook out of their funk and went on a 10-0 run.

Senior forward Aaron Thompson’s three-pointer gave CSUF their largest lead of the game at 70-55.

The Matadors still hung in there and cut the lead down to 10.

Johnson scored five unanswered points before fouling out with 2:25 left in regulation.

For the remainder of the contest, the Titans knocked down free throws to preserve the lead and prevent any Matador comeback.

In the second round, the Titans will face off against UC Davis – the Aggies swept the season series – at 8:30 p.m. at the Anaheim Convention Center.

“We feel good about this game, we’re really excited to play them,” Burton said. “I like the fact that we played tonight, I think that helps you play the game here in this environment.”