Anaheim, Calif. - A putback from senior Travis Fulton with 1.3 seconds left lifted the Pacific men's basketball team to the Championship Game of the Big West Tournament with a 55-53 victory over Cal Poly. The Tigers improved to 21-12 on the season.
The Tigers took an early 4-0 lead after baskets by Fulton and senior Colin Beatty. With the Tigers leading 6-4, CP used an 8-2 run to take a 12-8 lead with 11:37 to play. A jumper by junior Ross Rivera and a pair of free throws by junior Tony Gill evened it up at 12-12. The teams traded baskets until it was 18-18, when senior Rodrigo De Souza hit one of two free throws to give the Tigers a 19-18 lead with 2:59 to play. The Mustangs got a basket from Dylan Royer to go up 20-19, before Fulton hit a jumped to make it 21-20 Pacific with 1:33 left. Chris Eversley scored and added a free throw to give CP a 23-21 lead that it would take to the break. The lead changed hands five times and was tied six times, as neither team led by more than four points in the first half.
Cal Poly pushed its lead to four with a basket to start the second half, but the Tigers evened up at 25-25 after a pair of layups from Gill and senior Lorenzo McCloud. The Mustangs pushed ahead again 33-30, but four straight points from Rivera gave the lead back to the Tigers at 34-33 with 11:39 to play. A layup by Chris O'Brien gave the lead back to the Mustangs (35-34), but the Tigers countered with a 7-2 stretch capped by a three-pointer from Gill to make it a 41-37 lead with 7:55 to go. Cal Poly then scored five straight, on another jumper from O'Brien and a three-pointer from Dylan Royer. Fulton hit one of two free throws to even it for the 11th time at 45-45 with 3:43 to play. The Tigers countered four points on the next two Cal Poly possessions with a pair of big three-pointers from Gill to lead 51-49 with just 2:00 remaining. Everseley knocked down a corner jumper and O'Brien hit a pair of free throws to give CP a 53-51 lead with 1:00 left, but McCloud scored on a layup to even it up at 53-53 for the 14th and final time with :50 seconds to play. After a CP miss, the Tigers held for the final shot. McCloud drove to the right baseline, pulling up for a fade-away jumper with under three seconds to go. The shot bounced into the middle of the key, where Fulton jumped, caught the ball out of mid-air and put back the miss to give the Tigers the victory. A three-quarters court heave by Drake U'u was well short as time expired. Fulton's put-back accounted for the 18th lead change in the game.
Gill led the Tigers with a career-high 20 points, while Fulton added 12 points. Eversley led Cal Poly with 12 points.
The Tigers shot 44.2% from the field, but an outstanding 55.0% (11-20) in the second half. Pacific was out-rebounded 29-23, with the Mustangs out-scoring Pacific 9-2 in second chance points from eight offensive rebounds. The Tigers' only second chance points ended up being the most important.
The Tigers will face UC Irvine on Saturday, March 16 at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN2 in the championship game.