Big West Men's Tournament - Final AT ANAHEIM CA
18-16, 9-7 Conf

Big West win puts Cal State Fullerton in NCAA tourney for first time since '78

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) -- With former great Greg Bunch in attendance, Cal State Fullerton earned its own place in the record books by returning to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 30 years.

Josh Akognon had 23 points to lead the Titans to an 81-66 victory over UC Irvine to win the Big West Conference championship on Saturday night.

Bunch, a member of the 1978 team that lost in the Elite Eight in Fullerton's only previous NCAA appearance, spoke to the Titans earlier in the season.

For Akognon, it was his omission from the all-conference first team that spurred his breakthrough performance during the league tournament. Akognon, a transfer from Washington State, was selected the tournament MVP after leading Fullerton in scoring for the third consecutive game.

"It feels absolutely great," Akognon said. "Being named second team all-league was motivation."

Scott Cutley, the co-Big West player of the year, had 22 points and 12 rebounds for the Titans (24-8). He was one of several players that went bodysurfing among a sea of jubilant orange and blue fans that stormed the court to celebrate.

During Cutley's two seasons at Kent State, the Golden Flashes reached the NIT, but not the NCAA tournament.

"This is unbelievable," said Cutley, who transferred to Fullerton after his sophomore season. "I've been waiting for this since my freshman year in college.

"I'm just thrilled I got to do it my senior year and hopefully we can keep things going."

The Titans shot 52.7 percent while making their fourth appearance in the conference title game and first since 1985.

Darren Fells had 21 points and 10 rebounds for Irvine (18-16). The Anteaters, seeking their first NCAA berth, were making their third appearance in the conference championship game and first since 1994.

Fells had four points during Irvine's 8-0 run that pulled them as close as 55-46 but Akognon responded with a 3-pointer that halted the Anteaters' momentum.

Irvine led twice in the opening 4 minutes before the Titans pulled away by using an aggressive defense that forced the Anteaters to take rushed and contested shots. Irvine made just 34.6 percent of its field goals in the first half and shot 37.3 percent for the game.

"The defensive effort was really good throughout the whole game," Fullerton coach Bob Burton said.