With eight to 10 seconds left and Utah State trailing by one, Aggie senior guard Allen Gordon drove the lane for a running four-footer.
It was a trip he'd made many times Monday night in Titan Gym, and something good had come from it for the Aggies every time. He did it three times in less than two minutes in the first half, and that helped the Aggies come from seven behind to take a one-point lead as Gordon missed each layup but made all six free throws he shot and put Cal-Fullerton into early foul trouble. He did it again just before the half and got one free throw to send the Ags to the dressing room up 38-34.And he did it again with :24 left in the game, making the basket but missing the free throw to draw the Ags within three when they'd been sinking by five.
A Jay Goodman three-pointer from the right corner - his sixth three-pointer of the half - cut Fullerton's lead to 92-91, and when the Titans' floor-length baseball pass went out of bounds, Gordon and the Aggies had their chance.
Gordon found a seam to the basket. "I shot too hard," he said. He missed, and no free throws were forthcoming. "There was a guy on my shoulder," he said, adding, "I just missed it."
The Aggies just missed, too, falling 93-91 to a Titan team that has won nine of its last 10 - the only loss at UNLV - and is 6-0 at home. It was Utah State's first loss in Big West Conference play, and it now heads to Vegas for Wednesday's game with a 2-1 mark, 5-7 overall. Fullerton's 9-3, 2-1.
"It makes me mad," said Gordon, who'd won the first game of the Met Life Classic in San Francisco on free throws with :02 remaining a few weeks ago. "It's frustrating. You make all the shots the first half, and the second half, they don't count - the rest is just negated."
"We diagrammed it perfect; we got exactly the shot we wanted," said Goodman, who was Mr. Second Half to Gordon's Mr. First Half. Goodman scored 23 points the second half and finished with his second 31-point game in three days. He's scored 83 points in his past three outings, and he was named Big West player of the week for last week's performance.
In the first half, said Gordon, "They were playing Kendall (Youngblood, 14 points, 10 rebounds) and Jay real tight on the wing, and that allowed me to penetrate the lane. Then they kind of settled down and got a lot more help coming off the wing, and that's what opened Jay up."
"Goodman's everything I've heard about," said Titan Coach John Sneed.
As Gordon's missed shot was batted in the air in the lane, there was 5-foot-11 Goodman battling for the ball. Fullerton's Greg Vernon came up with it, and he and Goodman collided and Goodman fouled out with :02 left.
But there was still an Aggie pulse. Vernon had played five minutes and hadn't shot. He missed the first free throw but made the second.
A three-pointer still would have won it, but USU had to go coast to coast, and Youngblood's heave was 30 feet shy.
Aggie Coach Kohn Smith looked at the events in the middle of the second half as more telling than the final misses. "We couldn't hold them defensively," he said.
"We were just a totally much better ballclub the second half, except for (play against) Goodman," said Sneed. "It was about being much more aggressive."
"They turned up the defensive pressure," agreed USU freshman Eric Franson, who started and had his best offensive effort - 15 points on 7-for-9 shooting.