Fullerton Surprises Utah and Itself : Despite Losing Players and Coach, Titans Win Opener
This was to have been the dismal beginning of a dismal basketball season for Cal State Fullerton, a team that has lost three players and a head coach since practice began Oct. 15.
Instead the season began with a surprising 59-57 victory Thursday night over Utah before a crowd of 10,228 at the Huntsman Center.
Wayne Williams sank 2 free throws with 7 seconds left, putting the Titans up by 4 to start a Fullerton celebration. Utah’s Keith Chapman hit an uncontested layup at the buzzer for the final score.
“It feels great, just great; I love it,” said forward Derek Jones, who made his first start since March 1987, after he was injured in a drive-by shooting last year.
The victory made a winner out of John Sneed, who made his debut as the Titans’ coach. Sneed was named interim coach for the season after George McQuarn resigned Nov. 3.
Sneed inherited a team that had figured to struggle even before McQuarn resigned and the three players chose to leave the team.
“Going into this game, the kids started believing in themselves,” Sneed said. “A win takes care of so many little individual things. They are jubilant and they don’t care how many minutes they are playing. But this is just the first step up a long hill.”
Fullerton surprisingly stayed close in the early going and was tied with Utah, 15-15, after 10 minutes.
“We looked at the scoreboard, and we weren’t getting blown out,” Jones said. “We were right in it, so we went for it.”
Utah took a 31-26 lead by halftime. Then Fullerton opened the second half cold, attempting only 4 shots in the first 4:32 and missing all of them.
Utah stretched the lead to 13 before Fullerton scored its first basket of the second half, a 16-foot jump shot by Williams that made it 39-28.
But Fullerton fought back, closing the lead to 43-38 with the help of consecutive baskets by Cedric Ceballos, who led Fullerton with 18 points. Marlon Vaughn hit a 3-pointer that cut the lead to 3, then found Jones on an alley-oop that cut it to 44-43.
Fullerton got its first lead since the first half when Mark Hill pulled up for a bank shot of a drive, making it 46-45.
The score was tied, 54-54, with 1:11 left when John Sykes tipped a pass, and Williams broke downcourt, pulling up for a short jumper that moved Fullerton ahead to stay.
It was defense that put the Titans in position to win.
Williams, a freshman out of Manual Arts High School, held Van Gray to 2 points, 14 below his average. Mitch Smith, the Utes’ highly regarded center, scored 14, as did Watkins Singletary.
“That was tough defense,” said Utah Coach Lynn Archibald, whose team is 1-3. “We played timid in the final minutes. We were afraid to do anything.”
Fullerton’s opening lineup included three players who had never played in a major-college game--Williams, who started at point guard, and Ceballos and Hill, both of whom are junior college transfers.