UNION, N.J. (1/8/14) – Senior Xavier Fuller had a career-high 28 points and hit a game-tying three to force overtime but the Kean University men's basketball team fell just short in an overtime thriller with William Paterson University 75-71 on Wednesday night. The Pioneers are 10-2 and 5-1 in the NJAC, while the Cougars fell to 7-4 and an even 3-3 in the league.
The teams split the first 16 points of the matchup, with Fuller knocking down two-straight shots from the baseline – both of which tied the game for the Cougars. Kean took its first lead on a free throw by Tom Soulias and Ali Mix hit nothing but net from behind the arc to extend the Cougar advantage to four.
Emmanuel Omowole hit another baseline jumper for Kean to keep the team ahead, but the Cougars were in foul trouble early; William Paterson was in the bonus by the 10:06 mark and tied the game on a pair of free throws.
With Paterson up by one, Soulias hit a nifty reverse layup to put the Cougars back in the driver's seat. But back-to-back threes by Bright Mensa helped put Paterson ahead 22-17 with eight minutes to go in the first.
Fuller – the Cougar center - hit yet another jumper to trim the lead down to one and was shooting over 85 percent from the floor in the game's first half.
With the game tied at 25, Kean's Mike Summerer came through with a good post-up move, and Mix answered a Paterson three-pointer with a hit of his own from downtown to keep Kean ahead.
With the game tied and the final seconds ticking away in the half, Nick Smith pulled up for a buzzer-beating three pointer that was the halftime difference; Paterson led 37-34.
Fuller continued his hot shooting as the second half began, as he hit a three from the top of the key and Mike Burton followed with a game-tying shot from three-point land at 16:19. On the next possession, Soulias grabbed an offensive rebound in traffic and put it back to give the Cougars their first lead of the second half five minutes into the final period. That forced the Pioneers to call timeout.
Out of the stoppage, Burton (pictured left) shook his defender off and pulled up for a tough 17-footer that swished through the rim and inspired WPU to take another timeout. Out of that break Soulias made an impressive off-balance runner in the lane to extend the Kean lead to six.
Three minutes later a long-range three from Burton put Kean up by seven; it was the largest lead by either side by that part of the game and made Paterson use yet another timeout to quell the Cougar momentum.
The Pioneers made a three out of the break, but Burton again hit from NBA range on the next trip down the floor to maintain the Cougar cushion. Paterson finally went on a run of its own, capped by a three-pointer by Zach Frick, that put the visitors ahead, 56-54
Down one, Mix took his defender off the dribble and hit a running shot from the block to give Kean a lead again, but another three by Paterson – their 12th of the night – put the Pioneers up by one point with three minutes to go.
It was the same spread as the final minute began, when Sandy Burgos hit a jumper to put Paterson up three. Summerer hit a jumper in the lane to cut the advantage back down to one with 33 seconds left.
After Paterson hit both free throws, Fuller hit an uncontested layup to put Kean back within one. WPU made both ends of the one-and-one to go back up by three with 10 seconds remaining.
It was Fuller who ended up with the ball in his hands with the clock running out. The 6-5 center pulled up for the game-tying three and hit nothing but net as the Cougars forced overtime on Fuller's second trey of the night.
Fuller also scored the first points of the extra session on a layup assisted by Tim Steward. But WPU scored the next four to go up by two with two minutes to go. Another three-pointer made the Kean deficit five in the final minute.
Fuller made a put-back lay-in to make it a one-possession game again, and Kean forced a shot-clock violation on the next possession to get the ball with 7.4 seconds remaining. Alertly, the Pioneers fouled and made Kean shoot one-and-one. That bit of strategy effectively ended the game and Paterson escaped with a four-point victory.
Kyle Latorre finished with a game-high 13 rebounds for the Cougars, while the Pioneers were led by 30 combined points by Mensah and Javae King-Gilchrist.
Kean will travel to Rutgers-Camden on Saturday for an intra-conference matchup with the Scarlet Raptors.