When Pepperdine wiped out Cal State Fullerton’s 14-point lead and went ahead in the second half, Joe Small stepped up and swished a three-point basket, and then another.
When Pepperdine rallied again to force overtime, Small made a jumper, then two free throws.
With 27 points, Small made sure Fullerton didn’t let Saturday night’s game in front of 1,729 slip away at Firestone Fieldhouse. His 17-point second half led the Titans to a 69-66 overtime victory over Pepperdine.
“One of us was going to have to step up,” Small said. “Why not me?”
Going into the game, Small was mired in a shooting slump. He had made only 40.8% of his shots from the field, not a pleasing percentage for a shooting guard.
But he kept firing Saturday, making 11 of 20, including three of seven from three-point range.
Small said his confidence swelled after making his first few jump shots.
“I knew it was going to be a good shooting night,” he said. “I just got in a zone.”
It was the first time since the 1988-89 season, John Sneed’s first as coach, that the Titans won two straight road games.
For a while, it appeared the Titans (3-2) were headed for the second consecutive easy road victory. They routed the University of San Francisco, 84-60, Wednesday in San Francisco.
With Small leading the way, Fullerton built a 48-34 lead with 15:56 left in the game. But suddenly Pepperdine, which had clanged all sorts of shots off the backboard and rim until then, got hot.
Geoff Lear dunked, Dana Jones made a layup off an underhand flip from Lear and Steve Guild made a three-pointer.
Suddenly it was 48-41, Fullerton.
After a timeout, Damin Lopez made a three-pointer for Pepperdine, Lear and Jones scored and it was 48-48. Lopez made one of two free throws, then Jones scored.
And Fullerton was fading fast.
“That one spell hurt us,” Sneed said. “We were tentative against their zone press. We attacked the press and were fine after that. I was proud the guys didn’t fold.”
Small’s back-to-back three-pointers were crucial in keeping the Titans afloat.
His first came with 8:26 left, breaking a 17-0 Pepperdine run. The second, a moment later, put Fullerton back into the lead, 54-51.
Later, with a chance to win in regulation, Fullerton’s Wayne Williams, had the ball stolen by Rick Welch with three seconds left. Welch’s half-court throw was wide right at the buzzer and the teams went to overtime tied, 61-61.
Doug Christie made two free throws to give Pepperdine the lead. At the other end, Small and made a 17-footer at the baseline.
Williams made two free throws a moment later, Small added two, and Williams two more as Fullerton hung on for the victory.
So what does this mean for the Titans?
Well, Pepperdine (4-2) had already beaten two other Big West Conference teams--blitzing Fresno State, 84-64, in Fresno and knocking off UC Santa Barbara, 72-60.
“We’re starting to come around,” Sneed said. “We beat a pretty good team tonight.”
Said Small: “We feel real confident right now. We’re on a high.”
Aaron Wilhite, who made six of seven shots from the field before fouling out, was the only other Titan in double figures. He had 14 points.
Lear led Pepperdine with 18 points. Guild, a former standout at Marina High School, had 13, and Christie, playing with a sprained ankle, had 11.
Pepperdine shot just 34.4% from the field to Fullerton’s 44.3.