April 9, 2010
Fullerton, Calif. -
Years from now, Cal State Fullerton's 2009-10 men's basketball season will likely be remembered more for its parts than the whole.
In between a historic win at UCLA in the Bruins' season opener and Gerard Anderson's ill-advised go-for-broke attempt in the NCAA's Slam-Dunk Contest, the Titans provided themselves and their fans many more memorable moments. From the dramatic to heart-breaking or frustrating, the memories are not likely to soon fade away.
The bottom line was a 16-15 record -- a winning season, the fifth in six years and the fifth of Coach Bob Burton's 7-year tenure that has made him the winningest Div. I coach in school history with 123 victories. The Titans tied for third place in the Big West Conference at 8-8 and had a knack for playing their best when the television cameras were turned on, going 6-1. Most of the games went down to the final few minutes and six required overtime. An inexplicable inability to win at home down the stretch -- they lost their last four home Big West games -- prevented a more successful outcome.
Two games clearly stand out. The first was on Nov. 16 at Pauley Pavilion, where the Titans faced UCLA in a 9 p.m. Monday night tipoff to ESPN's 24-hour marathon of men's basketball. After nine futile tries in the past, the Titans finally beat the Bruins, 68-65, in a double overtime game in which UCLA had the last shot in regulation and both overtime periods but couldn't find the net. The outcome was reviewed and/or analyzed seemingly by every set of announcers at the 11 subsequent games and by the studio hosts at every break, giving Cal State Fullerton more national exposure than had it won an NCAA Tournament game. Coach Burton couldn't fully relish the win because of his feelings for UCLA Coach Ben Howland, who gave Fullerton its opportunity in the limelight and was embarking an atypical season.
The second historic game occurred on Feb. 13 at the Matadome at Cal State Northridge. Talk about snatching victory from the jaws of defeat! Four times the Titans were seconds away from a loss only to leave the building with an improbable 113-112 triple overtime victory, the highest combined scoring total in school history. For the first 30 minutes on the game clock, there was no hint of what was to come. Northridge jumped ahead early, got caught at 12-12 and then built a 12-point halftime lead after the Titans made no field goals in the final 9 minutes of the half. Fullerton came out of intermission with a 7-0 run and got even for the game's third tie at 50-50 with 10:16 to play. There would be 14 more ties and 15 lead changes. Orane Chin scored his only two buckets of the game giving Fullerton its last lead at 60-59 before CSUN pulled away again to lead by as many as 6 points at 67-61. It took a deep 3-pointer by Devon Peltier with 4 seconds left and a subsequent miss of a driving laup by Kenny Daniels to forge a regulation tie at 76.
Benches became very important as 11 players eventually fouled out. Fullerton's solution proved to be giving the ball to Anderson, who scored 18 of his 25 points in overtime. His two free throws with 12.9 seconds to go left the score tied at 83 after the first overtime when Jacques Streeter swatted the ball away from Mark Hill as he was going up for a jump shot near the top of the key. In the second overtime, Vincent Cordell, who moments earlier scored 6 points in 33 seconds to erase a 5-point CSF lead, missed one of two free throws with 15 seconds left allowing the Titans to tie the score at 97 on a trey by Streeter with 6 seconds left. Hill missed a driving bank shot at the buzzer.
In the third overtime, Anderson scored the Titans' first 10 points but they were down, 112-109, with 4 seconds to go and Anderson going to the line. He made his first attempt, missed the second intentionally and then saw reserve walk-on guard Eric Williams, who had no points in the previous 8 games, come up with the rebound, score from in close and get fouled. Williams' subsequent free throw was the difference but only after Vinnie McGhee's half-court shot bounced off the rim at the final buzzer. The win was the seventh in seven tries for Coach Burton in the Matadome.
There were several other last-second decisions. The most difficult came at Cal Poly on Feb. 24. After the Mustangs' Shawn Lewis hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 68 with 5.2 seconds remaining, Streeter took the inbounds pass 75 feet from his basket, hustled up the right side, accelerated past one defender and then took off from behind the 3-point line and launched a shot over 6-foot-5 Jordan Lewis that banked in at the buzzer for a 70-68 win when the referees failed to signal it was a trey.
Streeter appeared to be a hero back on Dec. 4, in what turned out to be a nightmare finish in Nacogdoches, Texas. He made two free throws with 4 seconds left for a 61-60 lead over host Stephen F. Austin. But after what Coach Burton called the worst call in his 40-year coaching career, 5-foot-7 guard Denzel Barnes was sent to the foul line after a blocking foul was whistled on a stationary 6-foot-6 Jer'Vaughn Johnson with half a second on the clock. Barnes made both "charities" for a tarnished 62-61 win. Another call -- this one a close one -- didn't go Fullerton's way at UC Davis on Jan. 2 when Aaron Thompson was called for a charge after a collision with Dominic Calegari with less than 30 seconds left and the Titans trailing, 65-63. Fullerton had to foul and Calegari clinched the game with two free throws with 21 seconds left.
Fullerton recorded a sweep of both local rivals Long Beach State and UC Irvine for only the sixth time. Long Beach, the pre-season conference favorite, lost in Titan Gym, 85-75 on Jan. 7, and at home on Feb. 4, 81-75, in overtime on ESPNU television. In the latter game, the 49ers used a 7-0 run in the final 2:50 of regulation to forge a tie before Casper Ware missed a jumper at the buzzer. In overtime, Aaron Thompson hit a couple of treys on his way to a 10-point period. Chin came up big in the sweep of the Anteaters. He had a game-high 23 points in Fullerton's 74-68 win at home on Jan. 30 on a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds in a 72-61 victory at the Bren Center on Feb. 10.
The Titans were a streaky team all season, with more than a dozen runs of 10-0 or more but also quite a few in the other direction. Never was the flow stranger than in a home victory over an NCAA-Tournament bound New Mexico State team on Nov. 24, a week after the win at UCLA. The Titans sleep-walked through the first 10 minutes and fell behind, 25-3, making only 1 of their first 15 shots. But they outscored the Aggies, 30-12 to finish the first half and 27-5 in less than 7 minutes of the second half for a remarkable 57-17 surge and a 60-42 lead. Then the Aggies responded with a burst of their own, 28-14, to pull within 4 points at 74-70 before the Titans scored the next 6 points to clinch an 84-73 win.
They streakiness could not be attributed to erratic substitution patterns. The Titans were a model of consistency with good luck regarding injuries. The same five players -- Streeter, Thompson, Anderson, Johnson and Bryce Webster -- started 27 of the 31 games and only Peltier and Chin saw significant minutes off the bench. Each of the seven players led the team in scoring at least once and five players averaged in double figures, all between 10.1 (Peltier) and 12.0 (Anderson) ppg. Fullerton had two winning streaks of three games and two losing streaks of the same length.
In the Big West Tournament, the Titans came in as the No. 5 seed after losing the third-place tie-breakers because of two losses to UC Davis. They defeated Cal State Northridge, 84-76, but were eliminated by the Aggies, 68-65, when Anderson's late drive to erase a 66-65 lead went awry.
The Titans were lucky regarding last-second game-winning field goals by opponents, who went 0-for-7 in buzzer beater attempts. Fullerton was able to overcome Shawn Lewis' late game-tying trey at Cal Poly but fell victim to Orlando Johnson's off-balance trey with about 3 seconds to go in regulation of what became an overtime loss at UCSB. And then there were the free throws at Stephen F. Austin.
Anderson was a vastly improved player over the course of the season and earned first-team All-Big West honors. Streeter and Johnson got honorable mention. Thompson led the conference in overall 3-point field goal percentage at .461 (47-for-102) and broke Don Leary's 1992-93 school record of .443 (89-for-201). Streeter led the conference in assists-to-turnover ratio at 2.04 (147 to 72) and was second in assists. Johnson led the team with five double-doubles.