Cal State Fullerton didn’t exactly come out smelling like a rose Wednesday night, but guard Joe Small provided a pick-me-up in the second half to guide the Titans to a 91-78 victory over San Jose State in Big West Conference game.
A Titan Gym crowd of 1,909 watched Small score nine consecutive points during a two-minute stretch of the second half as Fullerton turned a 54-52 deficit into a 61-58 lead with 9:10 remaining. Small finished with 30 points.
The Titans (10-3, 3-1 in conference) then rode the shooting of J.D. Green, who scored all 10 of his points in the final nine minutes, and Aaron Wilhite, who scored eight of his career-high 21 points in the last five minutes. It gave Fullerton its 10th victory in its last 11 games.
Wilhite, who played all 40 minutes because reserve center Ron Caldwell was suffering from a rib-cage injury, also had 14 rebounds. Forward Agee Ward, who played 36 minutes, added 19 points and 10 rebounds, and Wayne Williams had 10 points and 11 assists.
“You’ve got to be fatigued when you play hard for 40 minutes, but Aaron really sucked it up,” Titan Coach John Sneed said. “He had a lot left in the last few minutes.”
The Spartans (2-11, 0-4) had trimmed a 10-point deficit to six on Ron Hannon’s three-pointer with 4:02 left. After Williams scored on a fast break, Wilhite followed a missed free throw, scored on a pass from Green and then added another follow shot with 1:43 left to give Fullerton an 83-71 margin.
The Titans were cold in the first four minutes, missing nine of their first 10 shots and falling behind, 10-2.
Sneed called time out with 16:11 left in the first half, Fullerton went to a full-court press and outscored San Jose State, 17-0, in the next 3:07 to take a 19-10 lead.
The Titan press helped force turnovers on three successive Spartan possessions and Fullerton took advantage, pounding the ball inside to Ward and Wilhite, who combined for 11 points in the run. Williams added a three-point shot, and Small capped the spree with a three-pointer with 13:06 left.
Fullerton increased the lead to 29-16 on Small’s jump shot with 9:55 to go, but San Jose State came back with a 9-2 run of its own, thanks in part to some poor Titan shot selection.
Instead of attacking the back of the Spartans’ 1-3-1 zone, Fullerton stood on the perimeter and launched outside shots, most of which missed. The Spartans pulled to within 34-33 when Philip Crump made a three-point basket, was fouled by Kevin Ahsmuhs and converted the four-point play with 2:16 to go.
Small then made two consecutive three-pointers and a free throw, as Fullerton took a 41-37 halftime lead. Small scored 14 and Ward had 12 in the first half.