The Cal State Fullerton basketball team bumped into Mike Tyson at McCarron International Airport Thursday afternoon, and Friday night, the Titans went up against college basketball’s heavyweight champion, Nevada Las Vegas.
Those expecting the game to mirror a typical Tyson fight--ugly and over in about two minutes--were surprised when Fullerton trailed by only 14 at halftime.
But the Runnin’ Rebels delivered the knockout punch early in the second half, outscoring the Titans, 39-11, in the first 11 minutes and cruising to a 98-67 Big West Conference victory in front of 18,995 in the Thomas & Mack Center.
Senior forward Larry Johnson scored 24 points and had 16 rebounds in only 27 minutes, and junior guard Anderson Hunt added 19 points, 15 of them on three-point shots, as the top-ranked Rebels improved to 8-0, 2-0 in conference.
UNLV turned the game into a slam-fest--11 baskets were dunks--and also intimidated on defense with 14 steals and 11 blocked shots, several of which started fast breaks.
The euphoria of Fullerton’s eight-game winning streak began to wear off in the first half, when they shot 26% and committed 15 turnovers, and it was long-gone by the second half.
The Titans (8-3, 1-1) made only 12 of 46 shots in the second half and finished with a 26% field-goal percentage (21 of 81).
They turned the ball over 24 times.
Not all the Titans will leave Las Vegas with completely sour memories, though. At least two, reserve forwards Kevin Ahsmuhs and Jason Kerian, will get to boast of their meeting with Tyson, the former heavyweight champ.
The team was in the baggage claim area of the airport when Tyson approached Ahsmuhs and Kerian and asked if they were basketball players.
“We told them we were from Fullerton and were in town to play UNLV, and one of the guys with Tyson said we were gonna get trounced,” Kerian said. “We said, ‘Well, we’re not sure,’ and Tyson said, ‘Keep that positive attitude, you never know what could happen.’ We shook hands and he took off. He was a really nice guy.”
The Rebels weren’t as courteous. Their man-to-man defense gave Fullerton fits all night, and Greg Anthony reduced the Titans’ leading scorer, Joe Small, to stardust.
Small, who entered with a 23.1 average, scored 11 points, but six of those came against freshman reserve H Waldman in the first half.
Small didn’t score in the first 17 minutes and made three of 16 shots on the night. He also missed a free throw late in the game, bringing his consecutive free-throw streak to an end at 22.
“It was all I thought it would be and then some,” Small said. “I’ve never experienced anything like this. They just played great defense on me. It was hard to get off a shot, and if you dribbled around Anthony, you had the trees to contend with.”
Those would be 6-foot-9 center George Ackles, 6-8 forward Stacey Augmon, 6-7 forward Johnson and 7-0 reserve center Elmore Spencer, who was playing his fourth game since becoming academically eligible on Dec. 22. The foursome combined for seven of the Rebels’ blocked shots and altered numerous others by Titan front-court players.
“It’s definitely an intimidation factor,” Fullerton forward Ron Caldwell said. "(Spencer) is one of the biggest centers in the country. He and Larry (Johnson) go at least 500 pounds, and that alone is enough to put fear in your heart. It’s not that you’re afraid of them, but they make you change your shot.”
Despite several crowd-rousing dunks by the Rebels in the first half and Fullerton’s poor shooting, UNLV led by only 43-29 at halftime. The Titans packed their zone inside, and the Rebels weren’t hitting from the outside, as Hunt, Anthony and reserve guard Travis Bice combined to go 5 for 17.
But Augmon, a senior forward who finished with 14 points in 25 minutes, opened the second half with a three-pointer and a dunk, Johnson slammed from inside and Anthony added a jumper to make it 52-32 with 17:01 remaining.
Hunt then found his range, making three three-pointers in the next four minutes, Augmon had two dunks, one off an alley-oop pass from Anthony, and Johnson scored six points from inside. When Evric Gray hit a three-pointer with 10:27 left, it was 82-40, UNLV.
“Even though we played poorly in the first half, I thought if we could weather the storm early in the second half, we could make the score respectable,” Titan Coach John Sneed said. “But there’s no doubt they’re an outstanding team; they’ll go down as one of the best in the history of the NCAA.”
With the victory, UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian improved his career major college record to 573-119 and expanded his lead over the late Clair Bee as major college basketball’s all-time winningest coach by percentage--his .8280 ranking is .0014 ahead of Bee, who posted a .8266 winning percentage during his career at Rider College (1929-31) and Long Island University (1932-51). Should Tarkanian, who built his percentage during five years at Cal State Long Beach and 17-plus seasons at UNLV, continue to win a minimum of five of every six games for the rest of his career, he would retire as the winningest coach by percentage. . . . Remember Joe Small’s game-winning, 16-foot follow shot that beat Colorado State, 62-60, at the buzzer last Saturday? It wouldn’t have made a difference in the outcome, but after viewing it on videotape, Titan Coach John Sneed says the basket was actually a three-pointer. Small missed a long shot with three seconds left, but after the rebound bounced high in the key, Small rushed in, leaped toward the free-throw line and, in one motion, caught the ball and shot the game-winning basket. It counted as a two-pointer and broke a 60-60 tie, but Sneed said Small was behind the three-point line when he took off for the rebound, thus making it a three-pointer.