SACRAMENTO -- In a game that featured numerous momentum swings, including Cal State Fullerton erasing an 18-point second half deficit, it was Sacramento State that eventually outlasted the Titans, 87-82, in overtime on Saturday evening inside the Nest.
The Hornets (3-0), who are now one of just three teams in California (San Francisco, Loyola Marymount) that remain undefeated, used a huge rebounding advantage and big plays in the extra session to avenge a loss to the Titans in Fullerton a year ago.
Sacramento State took its largest lead of the game at 58-40 at the 11:16 mark of the second half after Izayah Mauriohooho-Le'afa buried his fourth 3-pointer. However, the Titans stormed back, using their athletic roster to play sound defense late that allowed them to climb back in. In fact, Cal State Fullerton, which scored 27 points off 20 Sacramento State turnovers, closed the final 10:22 of regulation on a 32-14 run to force overtime. The Titans did not have a lead the final 25:58 of regulation, and eventually tied things at 72-72 on a pair of Kyle Allman free throws with 51 seconds to play.
Both teams had looks on their final possession to win, but could not convert. That included a missed 3-pointer from Allman with three seconds remaining.
The Titans opened the overtime session with a Jamal Smith free throw, their first lead since the 7:34 mark of the first half. However, that marked their only lead of overtime as Sacramento State responded with a 9-1 run over a 2:10 stretch to take a commanding 81-74 lead with 1:38 left. Highlighting the run were two offensive rebounds and putbacks by Ethan Esposito who finished with six offensive rebounds in the game. Rebounding was a major factor as Sacramento State crushed Fullerton on the glass, 50-38, and held a 21-8 advantage in second chance points.
The Hornets would eventually extend their lead in overtime to 86-76, before settling for the five-point victory. During overtime, Sacramento State shot 5-of-8 from the field, 5-for-7 from the free throw line and had five second-chance points (each of those courtesy of Esposito).
With the victory, Sacramento State is off to its first 3-0 start since the 2015-16 team began the season with four straight victories. The Hornets were coming off a 58-55 win over UC Davis at the Golden 1 Center.
Cal State Fullerton, which wrapped up a stretch of five straight games away from home tonight, dropped to 2-5 with the loss. The Titans' schedule thus far has not been kind, including losses at Arizona State, Central Florida, Wake Forest and Hofstra. The loss to Arizona State was in double overtime.
The Hornets are now 8-7 all-time against the Titans and avenged a loss last year in Fullerton at the Wooden Legacy. Sacramento State lost that outcome, 68-63, in a game that included 11 ties and eight lead changes. The Hornets are now 5-1 against Cal State Fullerton when playing at home.
Esposito finished with 14 points, 10 rebounds and a steal in 22 minutes. Of his 10 rebounds, six came on the offensive glass, and he had nine points and eight rebounds after halftime.
Senior guard Marcus Graves continues to have a monster early season as he finished two assists shy of his second triple-double of the season - 22 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists and two steals in 39 minutes. Despite missing all of last season with a back injury, Graves is now averaging a ridiculous 15.0 points, 9.3 rebounds, 9.0 assists and 3.3 steals per game. The six-foot guard leads the Big Sky Conference in both assists and rebounds per game.
Also in double figures were Mauriohooho-Le'afa (14 points, five rebounds, two steals) and Joshua Patton (12 points, eight rebounds). Eight Hornets appeared in tonight's game, and each cracked the scoring column. That included 16 high-energy minutes from Chibueze Jacobs, who had a career-best eight points on 3-of-4 shooting (2-for-2 from distance) and four rebounds. Osi Nwachukwu had eight points and two steals and Bryce Fowler had seven points, three rebounds and three assists.
Cal State Fullerton shot 49% (32-66) from the field, but converted just 2-for-19 from the 3-point line. Sacramento State, meanwhile, connected on 43% (31-72) from the floor, including 6-of-19 from distance and 19-for-29 from the free throw line. The Hornets had 20 assists on 31 made buckets and seven different players had at least one assist.
Nwachukwu and Mauriohooho-Le'afa, and the rest of the Hornet defense, did an excellent job of guarding the perimeter. Fullerton's starting backcourt of Khalil Ahmad and Allman both entered averaging better than 21 points per game. However, Ahmad was limited to 10 points on 4-of-13 shooting, and Allman had 15 points on 3-of-11 shooting. They were a combined 0-for-7 from the 3-point line.
Tonight wrapped up a stretch that saw the Hornets play each of their first three games in Sacramento. It would have been four straight, but the game against Cal Poly on Nov. 16 was postponed because of poor air quality related to the Camp Fire. Sacramento State will now play its next three on the road and won't play another home game until Dec. 11.
The Hornets will play twice next week in Southern California, including a matchup at UC Santa Barbara on Thursday, and Cal State Northridge on Saturday. Both games will start at 7:05 p.m.