It was almost like a new season beginning for Cal State Fullerton Thursday night.
A season without 6-foot-8 center Matt Caldwell, who is scheduled to have surgery next week for a shoulder injury and will be sidelined the rest of the way.
“I guess we’re going to have to play ‘small ball’ now,” said senior guard Mark Murphy.
And that’s what the Titans did in a 98-83 victory over Eastern Kentucky in front of 772 in Titan Gym. Point guard Kenroy Jarrett was three for three on three-point shots and Murphy was three for seven, and the Titans used their running game to make up for the loss of Caldwell.
Jarrett had a career-high 21 points to go with Ike Harmon’s team-leading 22, but all the Titan starters were in double figures. Murphy and sophomore Brandon Campbell each had 16, and sophomore Josh Fischer, who replaced Caldwell, finished with 12.
The Titans missed Caldwell’s muscle inside, particularly in trying to hold off Eastern Kentucky on the defensive boards, but Fullerton overcame those shortcomings with its quickness and 61.3% shooting in the second half. The Titans shot 55.2% for the game.
“Once we knew we didn’t have Matt, I thought we’d need to run the ball more,” Jarrett said. “I made up my mind to push it every time I had a chance.”
It worked well, particularly in their 62-point second half, and the Titans (4-5) won for the fourth time in five games at home. Eastern Kentucky fell to 5-4.
The game turned strongly in the Titans’ favor midway through the second half. Fullerton went from a three-point lead to a 20-point cushion at 77-57 by outscoring the Colonels, 22-5.
Tempers flared twice during that run. Harmon was restrained by Titan Coach Bob Hawking after getting into an argument with an Eastern Kentucky player while walking off the floor during a timeout. Hawking replaced him immediately, but Harmon was back later in the half. Harmon scored 18 points in the second half.
“Their player bumped me after I made a free throw,” Harmon said. “I’m sorry I didn’t keep my cool, and that was a childish thing on my part. It happened in the heat of battle, but I wish it hadn’t.”
Not long afterward, the Colonels’ 6-10 freshman center, Chris Garnett, was ejected after a flagrant foul against Fischer.
Fischer made both free throws, Murphy made two more for the technical foul, and reserve Dan Thompson scored on the resulting possession to lift the Titan lead to 72-57 with slightly more than nine minutes remaining.
“It was a very physical game,” Hawking said. “We played hard, and they played hard. But we’re a different team now without Caldwell. If we’re going to give up our big guy, we’re going to have to get quicker.”
Hawking’s only complaint was Eastern Kentucky’s 48-35 rebounding advantage.