Cal State Fullerton pulled off a stunning 89-87 upset of first-place Long Beach State on Jan. 19, handing the 49ers their first conference loss. The Titans continued to struggle defensively, allowing the 49ers to make 52.5 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from 3-point range, but they committed fewer turnovers and outrebounded Long Beach State 36-31 before a crowd of 2,733 at Titan Gym.
"It was a terrific win, and the crowd really helped us," Cal State Fullerton coach Bob Burton said. "It's really encouraging to see how hard and how well we played. We've played that way the last two games at home. This was one of those games that, even had we lost, I would have been proud of the effort. We were really competing and trying and playing together. It was a great environment tonight."
The Titans followed that performance with an equally surprising 63-58 victory over UC Santa Barbara, the preseason favorite in the Big West, on Jan. 22. The Titans weren't nearly as sharp offensively, but they were better defensively with Bruce Bowen, a former Cal State Fullerton star who won three NBA championships as a defensive stopper with the San Antonio Spurs, in attendance.
Cal State Fullerton held the Gauchos to 39.2 percent shooting, forced 21 turnovers and emerged with a 63-58 victory after outscoring the Gauchos 9-0 in the closing minutes.
Burton was at a loss to explain his team's turnaround since suffering an 89-65 loss to Cal State Northridge on Jan. 15.
"Unbelievable," Burton told the Santa Barbara News-Press. "We played Northridge up there and a CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) team could've beaten us. We were awful, and I thought we'd never win another game the rest of the year."
Through Jan. 23, the Titans had won their last three conference home games against Pacific, Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara, the three teams most expected to contend for the conference title this season. The Titans hadn't fared as well away from home, losing seven of their last eight road games and eight of 10 this season.
Burton marveled at how quickly his team's fortunes changed.
"A week ago, I was thinking that maybe we wouldn't be in the playoffs, we were playing so poorly," Burton told the Orange County Register. "Honestly, this is one of the best weeks I've ever had at Cal State Fullerton. To get two wins against Long Beach State and Santa Barbara in one week, let alone how bad we were playing, is incredible."
--Bruce Bowen, a current ESPN commentator and former Cal State Fullerton star who won three NBA championships with the San Antonio Spurs, attended a Jan. 22 game against UC Santa Barbara and spoke at the Titan Hoop Club Chalk Talk.
"He's here on his own time to help us raise some money with a golf tournament in the summer, and it was great for our team to be able to interact with him," Cal State Fullerton coach Bob Burton said.
--Cal State Fullerton's game against Long Beach State on Jan. 18 was the 100th in the all-time series between the schools, which are located about 25 miles apart. The 49ers lead the series 58-42, but the Titans have won six of the past seven.
--Cal State Fullerton was third in the Big West Conference in scoring offense (71.1 ppg) through Jan. 23, but the Titans were last in scoring defense (74.7 ppg).
BY THE NUMBERS: 5 -- Where Cal State Fullerton ranked nationally in player disqualifications through Jan. 23. The Titans were first in the Big West Conference with 19 player disqualifications in their first 19 games.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The guys were talking about winning two in a row in the locker room. I thought it was 10. That's what it feels like to me." -- Cal State Fullerton coach Bob Burton, to the Orange County Register, after his team posted back-to-back wins over Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--at Cal State Bakersfield, Jan. 25
KEY MATCHUPS: The Roadrunners could offer a nice nonconference test for the Titans. They already have beaten Big West Conference teams Cal State Northridge and UC Riverside and nearly knocked off Western Athletic Conference contender Idaho before falling 78-77 in overtime on Jan. 15. The Roadrunners feature an explosive backcourt combination consisting of Stephon Carter (16.7 ppg through Jan. 23), Alex Johnson (14.5 ppg) and Donavan Bragg (13.4 ppg). The three of them combined for 69 points in the loss to Idaho. The Titans will let senior G Devon Peltier fire away from the perimeter and try to create mismatches inside with senior F Jer'Vaughn Johnson and junior F Andre Hardy.
--at Long Beach State, Jan. 29
KEY MATCHUPS: The Titans will face the 49ers for the second time in 10 days when they visit The Pyramid. Cal State Fullerton handed Long Beach State a stunning 89-87 loss on Jan. 19 at Titan Gym, the 49ers' first defeat in Big West Conference play. Junior PG Casper Ware scored a season-high 27 points for Long Beach State, but the 49ers couldn't overcome 15 turnovers and a 36-31 rebounding disparity. Johnson came up big for the Titans, posting 22 points and 13 rebounds for his second double-double of the season. Ware is always dangerous, and he isn't the only one. Long Beach State G Larry Anderson and F T.J. Robinson have taken over many games in their careers, and they likely will come in on a mission after suffering back-to-back losses to Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine.
--Junior F Orane Chin's play was a big factor in Cal State Fullerton's surprising victories over Long Beach State on Jan. 19 and UC Santa Barbara on Jan. 22. Chin had 12 points, nine rebounds and three assists against the 49ers. He had 18 points, six rebounds and three steals against the Gauchos. Chin has been good for the Titans all season, averaging 13.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists, but he had struggled in games leading up to the Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara contests. He was held to seven points on 2-of-8 shooting against Cal Poly on Jan. 13 and five points on 1-of-8 shooting against Cal State Northridge on Jan. 15.
--Junior PG Perry Webster led the Big West Conference in assist-to-turnover ratio through Jan. 23, and he played an important part in recent victories over Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara. Webster posted combined totals of 31 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists with only four turnovers in those two games.
--Junior F Andre Hardy had failed to post a double-double in the last three games through Jan. 23, but he still made his presence felt. Hardy had six points and 14 rebounds against Cal State Northridge on Jan. 15; 16 points and seven rebounds against Long Beach State on Jan. 19; and 12 points and eight rebounds against UC Santa Barbara on Jan. 22.