Cal State Fullerton beat No. 1! The Titans beat No. 1!
OK, so Cal State Fullerton didn’t upset Arkansas. And, no, it wasn’t exactly the No. 1 team in NCAA Division II or III, either.
But, having reached the Any Win Is a Good Win stage weeks ago, the Titans knocked off Oklahoma Baptist, the No. 1-ranked NAIA team, 85-71, in front of 630 Thursday in Titan Gym.
“We beat a good basketball team,” Fullerton Coach Brad Holland said. “They could be a contender in a lot of Division I conferences. They’re a senior team that plays well, plays together and plays smart.
“I feel good about beating a No. 1-ranked team, even if it’s NAIA. That team is a Division I team all the way.”
The Titans (2-6) trailed by as many as 14 in the first half before taking the lead for good on a jumper by Josh King with 9:56 to play.
And although they were not certain of victory until the final minute--Oklahoma Baptist was still within five with 1:13 left--things were finally different for the Titans.
For once, it was a night for career highs (James French, 17 points; Josh King, 10), high fives and . . .
Take Darren Little, for instance, who had one of his finest nights as a Titan. Making only his third start, Little poured in 19 points--12 in the second half.
“We’ve been wanting Darren to increase his intensity both defensively and offensively,” Holland said. “However he prepared for this game, I want him to keep it up.”
Said Little: “I told (assistant) Coach (Chris) Brazier that I was on tonight. I was talking to my girlfriend, telling her how I played (Tuesday) night, and she told me to just go out and do my best. She gave me a little pep talk.”
Maybe it was a telephone conversation. Maybe it was six losses backed up in their system like a plugged-up sink. Whatever the reason, the Titans finally found the combination for good, old-fashioned fun.
“Everybody was pumped up and clapping,” Little said. “It felt like we were going to a party, a big party.”
Senior guard Greg Vernon (16 points) agreed.
“Coach told us, hey, let’s go out there and have fun,” Vernon said. “I was having fun and Darren was having fun. Before, we were trying so hard we were like robots.”
Which is what the Titans looked like in the first half. Thanks to 35% first-half shooting and 11 first-half turnovers, the Bison thundered to leads of 20-9 and 26-12. Holland was beside himself, hollering for the Titans to run their motion offense--it was ragged--and gesturing for them to play some defense--at times, they weren’t.
It wasn’t until late in the half, with Oklahoma Baptist embarrassing them, that Fullerton finally got the message. How could they let this happen? In their gym?
A scout from the Seattle Supersonics was here to check out Bison guard Darrell Barnett. UC Irvine Coach Rod Baker and Long Beach State Coach Seth Greenberg sat quietly and watched the Titans being diced.
Had the season really come down to this? To the Titans playing second-fiddle to everyone on their schedule?
But then, they realized something.
“This was a must-win for us,” King said.
“Definitely,” Little said.
Still, Oklahoma Baptist (12-2), which had defeated Oregon State and lost to Brigham Young by only two this season, stayed close until finally running out of gas--and players. Three Bison players fouled out in the final seven minutes.