February 14, 2010
Improbable as it may seem, Friday night's triple-overtime classic between West Virginia and Pittsburgh may not be the most memorable game of this college basketball season anymore.
In fact, it may not even be the best game of the weekend.
Those honors now belong to Cal State Fullerton and Cal State Northridge, which turned an otherwise innocuous Saturday night matchup between two middle-of-the-road Big West teams into a game for the ages.
Fullerton sank game-tying shots in the final 13 seconds of regulation and the first two overtimes and then eked out a 113-112 triple-overtime win on a go-ahead three-point play in the final seconds from a walk-on guard only playing as a result of foul trouble. (Watch the game-winner at the 3:50 mark of the highlight video above).
"That was one for the ages," Fullerton coach Bob Burton said by phone on Sunday. "We were dead in the water three or four times, and every time you looked up we had another guy foul out. We walked into the locker room afterward, the kids of course are going crazy, and all the coaches, we're looking at each other like, 'What happened here? Didn't we lose that game three or four times?'"
The Titans trailed 112-109 with four seconds left in triple overtime when the Matadors fouled Gerard Anderson at mid-court to keep him from even attempting another game-tying three-pointer. Anderson made the first and threw the second one hard off the backboard and front rim, allowing walk-on Eric Williams to crash from the left-wing, snatch the rebound, absorb contact from Northridge's Raymond Cody and lay the ball in off glass to tie the game.
Williams then sank the go-ahead free throw with 3.2 seconds left, and Fullerton survived a half-court heave at the buzzer by Cal State Northridge's Vinnie McGhee that clanged hard off the back rim to emerge with a miraculous victory.
"The way that game was going, I'm surprised that didn't go in," Burton said. "I'm dead serious. I mean, god almighty. Even after the game was over, I still didn't know who won."
What made the win all the more improbable was what it took for Fullerton to even force a third overtime. Devon Peltier hit a deep right-wing 3-pointer with 3.9 seconds to go in regulation to tie the score at 76. Anderson hit two free throws with 12.9 seconds in the first overtime for a tie at 83 all. And Jacques Streeter hit a right-corner three with six seconds left in double overtime to tie it at 96 and force the final extra period.
As you might expect from a game that lasted over three hours and produced a combined 225 points, there were some eye-popping stats on the box score afterward.
Eleven players fouled out, 10 players scored in double figures and the lead changed hands an amazing 15 times. Williams, the walk-on who won the game for Fullerton, had recently lost his spot in the rotation and hadn't scored in the Titans' previous eight games prior to playing the role of hero Saturday night.
"Four out of our five starters had fouled out, so Eric had an opportunity to do that just because of fouls," Burton said. "That was what was so great because he works so hard. He's playing behind one of our major guys in Jacques Streeter, so it was really terrific to see him do that."
The victory kept Fullerton (13-11, 7-5) in third in the Big West, two games behind co-leaders UC Santa Barbara and Pacific. The Titans close with four out of five at home including games against both Santa Barbara and Pacific, so the conference title is not totally out of reach.
"You would think this game would give us some momentum, but this team I have is so goofy that every game is a new experience," Burton said. "The way I look at it, we're playing the better teams, so that's going to be tougher. But if our guys are locked in and ready to go, we can play with anybody."