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Titans Lose to Long Beach After Desperation Misses

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cal State Fullerton guard Joe Small was trying to draw the foul, and with the way the whistles were blowing Saturday night--26 fouls on the Titans and 21 on Cal State Long Beach--perhaps his 35-foot attempt to tie the game with four seconds left wasn’t the misguided shot it seemed to be.

But when the shot didn’t come close to the rim and no foul was called, it was obvious that Small’s strategy had backfired badly.

Lucious Harris grabbed the rebound with two seconds left, was fouled and made two free throws to secure the 49ers’ 88-83 victory in front of 1,896 in Long Beach’s University Gym.

The Titans (13-11, 6-9 in the Big West Conference) fell into a sixth-place tie with Fresno State; the 49ers (9-13, 5-8) remained in eighth place.

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Long Beach had taken an 86-81 lead on Harris’ two foul shots with 21 seconds remaining, and the Titans pulled to within three, 86-83, when Small made a jumper from the top of the key with 14 seconds to go.

Fullerton then got a reprieve when Bryon Russell’s pass went off Troy Joseph’s hands and out of bounds on the 49ers’ side of the court with seven seconds left.

Small, guarded by Joseph, took the in-bounds pass, dribbled over the mid-court line and fired up his premature 35-footer. With four seconds left, Titan Coach John Sneed surely thought the Titans had time to look for a higher percentage shot.

But Small was looking for something else.

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“I figured they would foul me and give me two free throws instead of letting me shoot the three-pointer,” said Small, who finished with a team-high 21 points. “I was dribbling in, was pushed and was anticipating a whistle, so I threw up the shot hoping to get three free throws. But it didn’t work out.”

Sneed, who objected to many calls during the game, couldn’t argue with the non-foul on Small’s shot.

“It’s very seldom the ref is going to give you a foul on a desperation shot, and that’s what that was,” Sneed said.

When Long Beach turned the ball over with seven seconds to go, 49er Coach Seth Greenberg figured the worst. Long Beach’s last four losses had come by a combined seven points.

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“I was thinking we had found another way to lose a close game,” Greenberg said.

But when Small’s final shot went up, Greenberg was confident the 49ers would hold on.

“If he makes that, it’s a hell of a shot and God bless him,” Greenberg said. “But they’ve made shots like that against us before.”

The Titans had plenty of chances in the second half but were plagued by turnovers (23 in the game) and fouls.

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Starting point guard Wayne Williams, who finished with 15 points and five steals, committed his fourth foul with two seconds left in the first half and Small picked up his third with 8:20 to go in the first half.

Fullerton was forced to use a match-up zone for most of the second half, and Long Beach was able to penetrate it and score several inside baskets.

Chris Tower, a 6-foot-10 center from Westminster High School, scored all 11 of his points in the second half. Reserves Bryon Russell (13 points) and Kenny Jarvis (9) also had strong games, and point guard Bobby Sears had 13 points and five assists.

Harris added nine rebounds, six assists and four steals to his 25 points.

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“I like it when we have a team of heroes, when everyone steps up and plays well,” Greenberg said.

Sneed, on the other hand, was feeling a little helpless.

“A big factor was us being in foul trouble,” Sneed said. “We played man-to-man as many minutes as we could, but we had to sit in a zone for most of the second half. We haven’t played zone in a while and it showed. We weren’t matching up, we were flat, and we left guys open in the middle.”

Aaron Wilhite scored 16 points, Bruce Bowen had 12 and J.D. Green scored 11, all in the second half, for Fullerton. But like Thursday night’s game against New Mexico State, the Titans turned the ball over in several crucial second-half situations.

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“We didn’t play one of our smarter games, and our execution wasn’t as good on offense,” Sneed said. “And we didn’t make the right plays in the end.”


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