The UC Riverside men’s basketball team suffered their first conference defeat against Cal State Fullerton, 62-77, in the SRC Arena Thursday night. The Highlanders came into this game 2-0 in conference play for only the third time in school history as they rode a game-winning three-pointer from transfer guard Jamal Hartwell II to beat Long Beach State. However, UCR faced the tall task of defeating the defending Big West Champions as they were without their star guard Zyon Pullin.
Both schools traded three-pointers to open up the ball game. A layup from graduate student Kyle Owens and a three-pointer from Hartwell II put UC Riverside up early 8-3. CSUF responded with a couple of buckets of their own from senior guard Jalen Harris and junior guard Latrell Wrightsell Jr. before a three-pointer from graduate student Flynn Cameron tied the game up at 11-11. Harris and Wrightsell Jr. started to get into a groove as they hit jump shot after jump shot to give the Tritons an 18-11 lead with 10:46 left in the first half. Minutes later, Cal State Fullerton sunk back-to-back three-pointers to give themselves a double-digit lead, 29-16. The Highlanders tried chipping into the deficit with a couple of layups from redshirt sophomore Jhalyon Martinez. However, it was all Latrell Wrightsell Jr. down the stretch for Cal State Fullerton to end the first half. After a missed layup from Martinez, Wrightsell Jr. went down the court and finished a tough left-handed layup to extend the Triton lead 38-28. Seconds later, Wrightsell Jr. stepped into a three-pointer to push the lead to 13 points. On the next possession, Wrightsell Jr. waved off the head coach before sinking another three-pointer to give CSUF a 44-28 lead going into halftime. Wrightsell Jr. had 18 of his career-high 29 points in the first half alone.
The Tritons continued their momentum in the second half as they pushed the lead to 20 points, 48-28. UC Riverside responded with a quick 7-0 run to bring the deficit down to 13 points, 50-37. However, Cal State Fullerton answered back with a jump shot from Wrightsell Jr. and a three-pointer from senior guard Grayson Carper to push the lead back up to 18 points. After a steal from Carper, Wrightsell Jr. went down on the other end and sunk a three-pointer to give CSUF their biggest lead of the night 62-39. After a layup from Owens in the next possession, junior guard Max Jones found senior forward Vincent Lee for the emphatic dunk and silenced the Highlander crowd.
With their backs against the wall, UCR seemed to flip a switch with 10:03 left to play in the game. Having already three comeback victories prior to this game, the Highlanders somehow had newfound vigor being down 23 points, and battled back into the match. It started with a three-pointer from Cameron and a jumper from freshman forward Lachlan Olbrich to bring the score to 62-46. Owens then sunk two free throws and a jump shot to cut the deficit to 64-50, and a pull-up jump shot from Hartwell II brought the score to 64-52 with 6:44 left in the game. Cal State Fullerton answered with a 5-0 run to push the lead back up to 17 points but UC Riverside continued to fight down the stretch. A putback dunk from freshman guard Nate Pickens ignited the energy back into the SRC Arena and back-to-back three-pointers from sophomore forward Luke Turner cut the deficit to single digits, 69-60 with 2:49 left. However, UCR ran out of gas near the end of the game and the Tritons capitalized with a 7-2 run to end the game. After a steal from Lee, Wrightsell Jr. came down the court and scored a layup over Martinez to give him his 29th point of the game and iced the game away as Cal State Fullerton defeated UC Riverside 77-62.
Martinez led the way for the Highlanders with 13 points and seven rebounds. Cameron chipped in with 11 points, four rebounds, and four assists but had six turnovers as well. CSUF could not miss throughout the game as they shot 61.9% from the field and 61.5% from three-point range while holding UCR to 38.3% from the field and 25% from three-point range.
The Highlanders bounced back with a win against Cal State Northridge Saturday night and sit with a record of 10-6 (3-1). They will travel down to San Diego to take on UC San Diego Wednesday night, Jan. 11, at 7:00 P.M.