The coaches, naturally, pointed to deliberate play and good defense, and there was plenty of each.
But New Mexico State and Cal State Fullerton didn't score even 80 points between them Monday night in the Aggies' 41-37 Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. victory in front of 5,132 in Pan American Center. And it wasn't all because New Mexico State had learned its box-and-one defense well.
The Titans, in losing their seventh road game in seven tries, shot only 36.4%. New Mexico State did somewhat better, finishing at 44.4% after approaching 50% in the second half.
"Both teams played far, far better defensively than offensively," said George McQuarn, Fullerton coach.
Fullerton (4-7, 0-2) had not scored so few points since the Titans set a school-record in 1981 in a 51-30 loss to Fresno State. For New Mexico State, it had been even longer--since a 48-41 loss to Texas El Paso in 1974.
New Mexico State, (8-6, 1-1) opened in a zone box-and-one defense to try to defend Richard Morton, whose 25-point scoring average leads the Titans. It worked--partly because of Jeff Williams' man-to-man job on Morton, partly because of Morton's 4-for-11 shooting performance, and partly because the Titan offense was unable to take advantage at other positions.
The Aggies even abandoned the defense later in the game, playing a matchup zone and some man-to-man, but it didn't make much difference. In the end, Morton, who had scored 18 or more points in his past 22 games, finished with only 10.
"I was frustrated," Morton said. "It was a good box-and-one and we didn't have the guys to pick up the slack."
Henry Turner, who has been the Titans' second-leading scorer and scored 120 points in one five-game stretch this season, scored only eight (4 of 14), failing to reach double figures for the second straight game. Turner scored just six in a loss to Cal State Long Beach Saturday in which he struggled with foul trouble.
Willie Joseph led the Aggies with 16 points, and Steve McGlothin added 10.
Virgil Harris, who had scored career-highs in his past two games--including 27 in a 69-64 loss to Nevada Las Vegas Saturday, scored only 2.
Defense and pace did help make the game a low-scoring one--one so low scoring that the halftime score was 16-16.
"I thought both teams had some pretty tenacious defense," said Neil McCarthy, New Mexico State coach.
New Mexico State opened a modest lead with a 6-1 spurt to start the second half, and Fullerton never led again.
The Aggies led by as many as nine, 39-30, with 1:06 remaining. Randal Moos, Fullerton's three-point specialist, entered the game in the final minute and banked in a three-pointer that cut the lead to six. New Mexico State made 3 of 5 free throws in the final 1:06, which proved to be enough. Fullerton, looking for the three-point shot, managed only two follow shots by Vincent Blow.
Fullerton, which has won all four of its home games but is winless on the road, has been beaten by more than nine points only once, in an 80-57 loss to New Orleans. In several of the other losses, they have been close late in the game, but were unable to come through.
"Every situation is different," McQuarn said. "I don't have any theories on that."
Should Fullerton continue in this manner--winning at home, losing on the road--the Titans will finish with a 14-14 record.
The Titans already have lost nearly as many games on the road as they did last season, when they were 5-8 in away games during the regular season, 6-10 if postseason tournament games are included. An 11-3 record in Titan Gym helped Fullerton finish 17-13.
At a PCAA preseason meeting at which Fullerton was picked to finish third in the conference, McQuarn said he thought the key to a team doing very well in the PCAA this season might be playing .500 on the road.
Whether Fullerton can do that seems very doubtful, as McQuarn certainly realizes. Before the conference season began, even McQuarn had revised his predictions, saying Fullerton looked like a possible second-division finisher now.