Regulation came to an unfrantic end in Cal State Fullerton’s game against Utah State in the Big West Conference tournament Thursday. With the score tied, the teams gathered on their benches.
Fullerton Coach John Sneed turned his clipboard toward his team. On it he had written, “4-0.”
Four overtimes against conference opponents, four victories. Fullerton’s only loss in extra periods all season came on Dec. 27, when the Titans fell to New Orleans by one point in double overtime.
Minutes after the sideline talk, Cedric Ceballos’ blazing baseline drive with 11 seconds left ended in a dunk and a one-point Fullerton lead. And the Titan overtime mark was 5-0 after an 87-86 overtime victory that sent Fullerton into a semifinal game tonight against Nevada Las Vegas.
Utah State, which chose not to use its final timeout, failed to get off a shot after a near-steal by the Titans’ Derek Jones pestered Kendall Youngblood into traveling with a second left.
Utah State, the defending tournament champion, finished the season with a 12-16 record. Fullerton is 16-12 and has won 11 of its past 15 games.
This latest spectacular finish in a Fullerton season that has been rife with them was much to the credit of Ceballos, who finished with 27 points despite playing only 28 minutes.
He played only 10 minutes in the first half, sitting out half of it with two fouls and the look of frustration he often adopts after a few shots miss their mark.
“Cedric had a couple of critical fouls,” Sneed said, explaining the benching. “He was shooting the ball too quickly. I had to get Cedric settled down before the game or Cedric got away from us. Sometimes it takes that with Cedric.”
Fullerton fell behind by as many as 10 in the first half as the Aggies’ Reid Newey hit three three-pointers. He finished with five three-pointers in the game and 21 points. The Aggies’ Dan Conway also finished with 21.
Ceballos came back to start the second half.
He is the sort of player who plays with such abandon that, with Fullerton trailing by eight early in the second half, he chose to finish a break with a spectacular 360-dunk.
That sort of show has been known to raise a coach’s ire, but Sneed has learned to take Ceballos’ moves in stride.
“Well, I’ll say this,” Sneed said. “He hasn’t missed one of those all year.”
But with 14 minutes left in the game, Ceballos picked up his fourth foul, and it was back to the bench.
He didn’t return until 7 minutes 11 seconds remained.
“I felt like I had to do something for the team,” Ceballos said. “I wasn’t doing anything. Not scoring, not rebounding. I was only fouling. That wasn’t enough. If we would have lost, it would have been my fault if I hadn’t started playing.”
They didn’t lose.
Ceballos, inexplicably left alone on the outside by the Aggie defense, hit back-to-back three pointers with about 5 minutes left, giving the Titans a 69-64 lead, their largest of the game.
All told, he would score 10 points--including the game-winning dunk--while playing with four fouls.
Ceballos was there for the Titans in the critical moments, but while he was sitting down, Van Anderson filled in admirably. Anderson scored 11 points, including two three-pointers that helped prevent Utah State from pulling away in the first half.
The Titans came into this game uncertain whether point guard Wayne Williams would be able to start. Williams, who sparked several of the Titans’ close victories this season, sprained his right ankle against Cal State Long Beach last Saturday. He didn’t practice much this week, but when the whistle blew, he was on the court. He played 39 of the 45 minutes and scored 10 points, going out only briefly when someone stepped on his foot, reviving the pain of the sprain.
Sneed said he expects Williams to be able to play in today’s game.
For all the drama, this was a game that perhaps should have been settled in regulation.
“I was disappointed this one went to overtime,” Sneed said. “I was disappointed we didn’t take a better shot at the end of regulation.
Fullerton had the ball with 28 seconds left in regulation after Utah State’s Gilbert Pete hit a 15-footer to tie the score, 77-77.
The Titans, after calling a timeout on their end of the court with 21 seconds left, worked the ball around, looking for a shot.
As the clock ran down, Jones craned his neck to see the scoreboard clock above his head, then with the clock around 10 seconds, he drove the lane and forced up a 14-footer, which missed.
“I just wanted to get a shot off,” said Jones, who finished with 15 points. “It wasn’t a very selective shot on my part.”
There may have been some strange underlying wisdom in that move though, because that was what forced the Titans into their element--overtime.
“I think it’s a matter of once we get our backs against the wall, we really pull together and get down to business,” Jones said.