Going into the half, Cal State Fullerton was down a meager two points and looked like they had the ability to pull off an upset. Wisconsin was bigger, stronger, and had more experience against the country's elite, but what the Titans lacked in size and experience they were making up for in grit and determination.
Then it all started to fall apart.
It started with an unbelievable four fouls called on Titan Frank Robinson in a span of six minutes to start the second half. It ended with the clock striking zero and the hopes of the little team that could dashed by the Goliaths of Wisconsin.
"We realize the success we had this year and we won some tough games," Robinson said of the season. "We lost, but we went out like warriors."
When the season began, the team had hopes of winning the Big West. But once they had accomplished that, their hopes grew. And so did the hopes of Titan fans -- from the die-hards in Section K to the casual observer swept up in March Madness fever -- we all thought, despite the odds, the Titans could prevail.
And prevail they did.
As the team was leaving the locker room and walking down the hall towards the bus, senior big-man Marcus Morgan was walking slowly by himself. Coach Bob Burton, still standing by the entrance to the locker room, shouted out to Morgan when he was about 20 feet down the hall.
"Hey Marcus," Burton said, with a small grin on his face. "What a great year you had."
That moment perfectly captured the Titans season. The team had an amazing year and a first-round exit from the NCAA tournament shouldn't cause anyone to think otherwise.
In the 30 years that passed since their last invitation the big dance, CSUF had been relegated to status as "the baseball school" in the sports community. Then a group of young men, transfers from other programs looking for a chance to shine, put Orange County basketball back on the map.
Who would have thought that a group featuring a 6-foot-5 center and 5-foot-6 guard could play so big? Who would have imagined that a group of undersized overachievers would have played their way into the Titan history books? Who would have thought that a team no one was talking about before the season would galvanize a commuter school and create some genuine school spirit?
People like Kirk San Roman, who was a freshman in 1978's miracle season, traveled across the country to cheer on his team. Or Scott French, a Titan editor for 9 semesters and executive editor in 1984, who along with approximately 150 other alumni, raised the funds and made the trek to Omaha. Even CSUF's own Marc Stein, now a columnist for ESPN, took the time out of his busy schedule to root for the Titans from the sidelines.
Thirty years from now when I look back at the season, it won't be the loss against Wisconsin that stands out as the defining moment of the season. I'll think about the win over UC Irvine the last Saturday of the regular season. I'll think of the fans rushing the floor after the team won the Big West Conference tournament, and the smiles and tears on the players faces as they became overwhelmed with joy about heading to the big dance.
Sure, it would have been nice to make a run in the tournament, but even though they didn't, I will always remember the 2008 Titans for the success of their season, not the loss in their final game.