HIGHLIGHTS: Men's Basketball Defeats Cal State Fullerton | AUDIO: Caruso Halftime Interview on KDOW
SANTA CLARA, Calif. - A hot-shooting first half and solid defense helped Santa Clara men's basketball get off to a fast start in a 70-55 win over Cal State Fullerton on Saturday to claim the Cable Car Classic title.
The Broncos (8-1) are off to their best start in more than 50 years after winning their last five games, including all three at the four-team tournament that began on Wednesday.
Josip Vrankic paced the way with 17 points on 7 of 8 shooting while DJ Mitchell added 11 points and pulled down a team-high seven rebounds for the Broncos who led by as many as 23 in both halves.
In the second half, the Titans shot 47 percent to close gap to 51-39 but could not get closer. Austen Awosika scored eight points during the 18-7 Titans run but Tahj Eaddy and Mitchell scored back-to-back baskets to give the momentum back to the Broncos.
Awosika and Brandon Kamga combined to score 24 of the 36 second-half points for the Titans (3-5) who were held to 35 percent shooting from the floor in the game.
Kamga finished with a game-high 18 points and Awosika added 12. Davon Clare chipped in with 10 points and hauled in a game-high nine boards for Cal State Fullerton.
Santa Clara started the opening half with a big run and ended it with one as it shot 55 percent from the field while holding the Titans to just 20 percent.
The Broncos attacked the Cal State Fullerton zone defense early and raced out to 16-0 advantage highlighted by seven points from Guglielmo Caruso who ended up as one of four Santa Clara players with four fouls.
The Titans went scoreless for the opening 6:38 of the game and didn't connect on a field goal until there was 9:55 remaining in the first half. They missed their first 12 shots from the floor.
Just as Cal State Fullerton started to gain its footing, chopping a 19-point lead to 28-17, the Broncos got rolling again. Vrankic started a 14-2 half-ending flurry with a basket and set up Trey Wertz and Mitchell for 3-pointers as Santa Clara scored the final 11 points of the to build a 42-19 edge heading into the locker room.
This is the 11th time Santa Clara has won at least eight of its first nine games and is off to its best start to a season since 1968-69 when the Broncos began a school-record 21-0 on their way to a 27-2 mark and a trip to the NCAAs.
Santa Clara won each game of the tournament, which is in its 52nd year, by double digits and trailed for only 2 minutes, 21 seconds (all against Denver). The Broncos knocked off Denver, 81-64, in Wednesday's opening game and downed Southeast Missouri, 87-75, on Friday.
• The teams have met four times with the Broncos leading 3-1. They split games in 2013-14 and the following year. The Titans, led by Dedrique Taylor a former assistant of Herb Sendek at Arizona State, won 86-73 at home on Nov. 16, 2013. The Broncos won at home 89-72 on Nov. 14, 2014. Santa Clara defeated Cal State Fullerton, 79-65, on Dec. 2, 1994 in the Coors Light Classic in Fresno.
• Santa Clara has won 14 of its last 15 nonconference home games. The Broncos have won their last 10 home games overall, dating to last season. That mark is tied for the fourth longest stretch in the history of Toso Pavilion/Leavey Center (since 1975-76).
The Broncos hit the road for just the second time this season on Wednesday when they travel to Reno to face Nevada of the Mountain West Conference. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.