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Fullerton Loses to St. Mary’s : But Titans Look Back and Still See Hope for a Good Season

Times Staff Writer

A month ago, John Sneed was ready to take a .500 record, and take it gladly.

Now that Cal State Fullerton has finished its nonconference schedule with a 5-4 record after Friday’s 68-61 loss to St. Mary’s in Titan Gym, the Titan coach is pleading for people to remember the preseason, back when even the Titans wondered which games they could win. Back before their 5-1 start got everyone so giddy.

“You look back at what we’ve accomplished,” Sneed said. “I’m satisfied we’re 5-4. A lot of people didn’t think we’d do that well. But I think after we got off to such a great start, people may have thought we were going to go undefeated.

“I’m very pleased. A bucket here and a bucket there and we could very easily be 7-2.”

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St. Mary’s would not be included among the games the Titans could easily have won. The Gaels are 10-1, the only loss a 1-point game to Stanford, and Sneed called the Gaels the best team Fullerton has played--"no doubt about it.”

Unlike its other 3 losses, Fullerton never threatened to win against St. Mary’s, which led by as many as 10 in the first half and as many as 14 in the second.

“I thought our guys played extremely well; we played hard,” Sneed said.

St. Mary’s brought its aggressive matchup zone defense to Titan Gym, a defense that already has made its reputation this season, holding Brigham Young’s Michael Smith to 12 points and Stanford’s Todd Lichti to 11.

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Against Fullerton, St. Mary’s kept close tabs on Cedric Ceballos, who had been averaging 22 points a game, but was coming off a 2-point performance in a loss to New Orleans Tuesday.

Ceballos, who said later that his performance against New Orleans was caused because of dissent on the team about the number of shots he was taking, finished with 16 points Friday, and said the issue was settled.

“It’s behind me,” Ceballos said. “But it makes me think about my shots more than I did.”

Sneed said, “I think he bounced back well.”

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St. Mary’s built a 10-point first-half lead. But Ceballos hit a 3-pointer that cut a 9-point lead to 6, then used a one-handed slam off a fast-break alley-oop pass from Wayne Williams to cut it to 4.

St. Mary’s stretched its 31-27 halftime lead to 11 in the first 7 minutes of the second half after back to back 3-pointers by Terry Burns.

The Gaels built as much as a 14-point lead and held off the Titans when they threatened to close it to 5 with 11 minutes left. Mark Hill, who led Fullerton with 19 points, hit a hanging 15-foot jumper as he was fouled by Al Lewis. That made it 48-41. Hill missed the free throw, which would have made the lead only 6. Ceballos nearly tipped in the rebound, but also missed.

“We tried to put on a run, but they kept coming back at us,” Hill said.

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The Titans got no closer than 7 the rest of the way.

“Fullerton is extremely talented, with some good shooters,” St. Mary’s Coach Lynn Nance said. “Defensively, we were just able to hold down their bigger scorers.”

Dan Curry, St. Mary’s center, led the Gaels with 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting from the field, 5 of 6 from the line. Robert Haugen added 14 points and Al Lewis 13.

Fullerton opens its Big West Conference season against New Mexico State Tuesday in Titan Gym.

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“I thought we’d really be defeated by now,” Ceballos said. “I thought we might not win any. Now we think we can play with anybody.”


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