UPDATED: Warriors stun Fullerton on Jefferson’s buzzer-beater
Garrett Jefferson drained a running 12-foot floater as time expired last night to lift Hawai’i to a pulsating 90-88 comeback victory over Cal State Fullerton in thrilling Big West Conference men’s basketball action.
An electrified crowd of 5,198 watched the Warriors improve to 8-5 overall and 2-0 in the Big West. The Titans fell to 7-6, 1-1.
Isaac Fotu scored a game-high 29 points and grabbed nine rebounds, and Brandon Spearman and Christian Standhardinger each added 15 points for UH. Fotu shot 13 of 16 from the field, and came up one point short of the school record for points by a freshman (Chris Gaines scored 30 as a freshman in 1987).
Hawai’i trailed by as many as 11 points with less than six minutes remaining in the game, but Standhardinger’s 3-pointer with 38 seconds remaining gave the Warriors an 85-84 lead, their first since the opening moments of the second half. Manroop Clair later sank two free throws to make it 88-85 with 17 ticks left, but D.J. Seeley’s 23-foot 3-pointer hit the back of the rim and dropped in with 4.9 seconds to tie it again at 88-88.
Jefferson then went coast-to-coast after taking the inbounds pass from Standhardinger and elevated from just inside the left side of the free throw line before swishing the game-winner as the backboard frame lit up in red.
“It felt good coming off my hand, I just hoped I got it off before the buzzer,” said Jefferson, a 6-foot-3 junior reserve guard known mostly as a defensive specialist. “Things did slow down (when the ball was in the air). I was just like, ‘Please go in.’ ”
Hawai’i coach Gib Arnold said he would not have called a timeout after Seeley’s 3-pointer even if he had one available, which he did not.
“We have a play for that, it’s called ‘home run,’ ” Arnold said. “We use it when we have three to 10 seconds left where we get it in quick, and Christian did that, he got it in quick to the point guard. The wings run wide and the point guard takes it up full speed as deep as he can. In five seconds, you can do a lot, it’s longer than people think. Now Garrett is a third-string point guard, but he’s done it hundreds of times in practice.”
The high-arching shot went through the net cleanly and set off a wild celebration at midcourt and throughout the arena. It also brought an abrupt end to a hotly contested game featuring Cal State Fullerton’s speed — built around three quicksilver guards — vs. Hawai’i’s formidable front line of 6-8 forwards Fotu and Standhardinger (eight rebounds) and 6-10 center Vander Joaquim (12 rebounds, six points, two blocks).
The Warriors’ “big three” of Fotu, Standhardinger and Joaquim combined to shoot 23 for 33 from the field (the rest of the team went 13 for 31). They also grabbed 29 of the team’s 37 rebounds, as Hawai’i out-rebounded the shorter Titans by six.
Cal State Fullerton had just one post player available for the game – 6-7 junior Deuce Johnson, who finished with 14 points and six rebounds. The Titans tried to counter Hawaii’s size with quickness and long-range shooting, resulting in 14 steals and 10-of-23 shooting from 3-point range.
The Titans entered the game ranked first in the Big West in free throw shooting at 78.6 percent, but they went just 6 for 11 (54.5 percent) from the line, including 1 for 4 in the final 1:03 of the game.
A roller coaster first half ended tied at 40-40. The Titans sprinted to an 11-2 run that put Cal State Fullerton ahead, 35-26, after Seeley’s steal and slam dunk with 3:25 remaining. But Jace Tavita hit a 3-pointer to start the Warriors on a 9-0 spurt that tied it at 35-35 after a slam dunk by Fotu.
Fotu scored almost at will, with 20 points on 10-of-12 shooting in the first 20 minutes, many coming on slam dunks off nifty assists.
“The only way I’m scoring that many points is because teams have to worry about Vander so much,” said Fotu, a freshman from New Zealand. “The guards were giving me great passes inside.”
Cal State Fullerton used a 15-6 run early in the second half to stretch a 54-53 lead into a 69-59 advantage, and Kwame Vaughn’s 3-pointer later put the Titans ahead, 80-69, with 5:26 remaining.
UH then cut away at the lead, boosted by two 3-pointers from Brandon Jawato and another by Clair which closed it to 84-82 with 1:29 remaining. After Deuce Johnson missed a pair of free throws with 1:03 on the clock, the Warriors got a break on the ensuing possession when a loose ball was ruled to be off a Cal State Fullerton player. Hawai’i then ran a weave and Standhardinger got open beyond the top of the key, where he drained the go-ahead 3-pointer.
The Titans then missed a driving layup and Jawato was fouled going to the hoop on the other end. He sank one of two free throws to make it 86-84, and Seeley got the second of two free throws to fall to close it to 86-85 with 18.4 seconds left.
Clair then converted his two free throws to make it 88-85, setting up the wild sequence started by Seeley’s 3-pointer which paused on the back of the rim before dropping in.
That’s when Jefferson became the unlikely go-to guy.
“Now that was a basketball game,” Arnold said. “Two great teams, throwing blows, playing hard. Cal State Fullerton had a great game plan, they spread things out, and those guards are phenomenal. I coached five years in the Pac-10 and those guards are as good as anybody I’ve seen there. They can shoot, and drive it … but I give our guys and our fans credit for staying with it. They earned that win.”
The Warriors’ next game is at home Saturday against UC Riverside, which upset Cal State Northridge, 65-64, on Thursday at Northridge, Calif. Tipoff for Saturday’s game is set for 7:05 p.m.
(Game photos courtesy Charles Simmons)