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Butler’s Press Takes the Air Out of Titans’ Rally

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cal State Fullerton Coach John Sneed knew point guard Aaron Sunderland would take some lumps early in his first Division I season.

But he didn’t expect Sunderland to get pounded over the head with a sledgehammer.

That’s what seemed to happen in the Titans’ 100-83 loss to Butler Tuesday night. Fullerton’s press helped turn a nine-point halftime deficit into a five-point lead with about seven minutes remaining.

But the Titans’ offense against the press was atrocious, as Fullerton collapsed in a flurry of late-game turnovers and lost before a crowd of 1,729 in Hinkle Fieldhouse.

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As the second half progressed, it appeared as if the Titans might pull out a tough victory on the road. They fought back with a full-court defense, which helped cause 22 turnovers, and the offense of Joe Small, who tied his career-high with 33 points. Agee Ward, who was a force inside, added 23 points.

Then the Bulldogs (3-1) applied a full-court press of their own, and the Titans, especially Sunderland, wilted.

Trailing, 74-69, with 7:06 left, Butler surged ahead with seven consecutive points, three coming after Darin Archbold stole a Sunderland pass and converted a three-point play.

Moments later, Archbold again stole the ball from Sunderland near midcourt, drove, scored and was fouled. He made the free throw to give Butler an 81-76 lead with 4:02 to go.

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Titan forward Bruce Bowen’s driving layup and free throw stemmed the Bulldogs’ momentum, but only for a moment. Butler scored 12 straight points in two minutes to take a commanding 93-79 lead with 1:15 left.

Center J.P. Brens, who finished with 21 points, started the rally, dunking off Tim Bowen’s alley-oop pass. Jermaine Guice stole a Sunderland pass and jammed on the fast break.

Bowen, a former Los Angeles Cleveland High standout who is the cousin of Bruce Bowen, stole the ball from J.D. Green and passed to Archbold, who scored, was fouled and made the free throw for three of his 28 points.

The Bulldogs made five more free throws before Small finally ended a two-minute 53-second scoring drought with two foul shots.

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“We did an excellent job coming back from nine down with our press and matchup zone defense, but in turn, that’s what brought them back,” Sneed said. “They fought fire with fire.”

And Sunderland got burned the most. Playing in only his second Division I game, he finished with eight turnovers, many of them costly. The Titans (1-1) had 22 turnovers on the night.

“It seemed every turnover led to a bucket for them,” Sneed said. “We were not very alert in our press offense. We lost our poise for a two-minute span and that really killed us.”

Sunderland, the junior transfer from Connors (Okla.) State College, had some bright spots, scoring 11 points and passing out seven assists, but those were overshadowed by mistakes.

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The Titans adjusted well to Butler’s personnel and strengths, switching from a man-to-man defense to a 1-3-1 and matchup zone late in the first half. That seemed to offset Butler’s outside shooting and the inside play of Brens.

Sneed then went to a smaller, quicker lineup at the start of the second half, replacing center Sean Williams with Green, a small forward. The two-guard, two-small forward, one-power forward set worked well, but was probably overworked.

Sneed didn’t make a second-half substitution until the 7:12 mark, when Ward picked up his fourth foul.

“We used a lot of energy coming back, and fatigue had something to do with (us losing),” Ward said. “The guys out there played most of the second half.”

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Bruce Bowen had a good all-around game with nine points, nine rebounds and four steals. Small made five of 12 three-pointers and 10 of 10 free throws, and Ward made 10 of 14 field-goal attempts.

But Fullerton shot 43.7% from the field compared to Butler’s 55%.

“We missed a lot of easy shots, but these things happen,” Small said. “As long as we play hard, we’ll be OK.”


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