The Titans lost their first four games and more bodies along the way as 6-7 junior forward Steve Jurich joined 6-6 senior forward Jer'Vaughn Johnson and 6-6 junior forward Andre Hardy on the injured list. The injuries left Burton with nine available players and perhaps the smallest lineup in college basketball: 5-11 guard Devon Peltier, 6-1 guard Perry Webster, 6-1 guard Orlando Brown, 6-3 guard Eric Williams and 6-7 forward Orane Chin.
Chin, who was used as a backup small forward last season, has to play center, and players who are undersized even at the guard spots have to rebound against far bigger opponents.
"I've never seen anything like it in my 40-plus years of coaching," Burton said. "All the injuries at the same position, and we had only seven scholarship players."
Chin averaged 19.8 points and 6.5 rebounds over the first four games and Brown leads the team with 6.5 rebounds per game, but not everyone can make it look so easy.
The Titans were outrebounded 35-24 in a 70-67 loss to Central Michigan on Nov. 13 and 36-28 in an 80-76 loss to Montana State on Nov. 15. They had a 29-28 rebounding advantage against Hawaii on Nov. 14 but lost 84-70.
"Tonight we tried to make do with what we had and guys out of position," Burton said following the game against Montana State. "The block-outs were big but we had guards trying to block out big men. We need to finish games better, but I was proud of the effort. The guys are giving it all they have."
The hard work and resilience paid off as the Titans withstood a late charge on the road to beat San Diego 62-59 on Nov. 21, their first victory of the season. Peltier scored 24 points and Webster made a clutch 3-pointer to regain the lead after the Toreros surged into the lead.
"It was a great win for us," Burton said. "We didn't play very well, but we played hard and showed a lot of heart."
--Senior F Jer'Vaughn Johnson strained a knee ligament in an early practice session and has yet to suit up for the Titans. He was cleared to practice on Nov. 18 but had not been cleared to play in games. Johnson, the team's only returning starter, averaged 11.3 points and 6.5 rebounds last season.
--Senior G Devon Peltier made just 3 of 9 field-goal attempts and missed all four of his 3-point tries in the first half against San Diego on Nov. 21, but he found his stroke in the second half. Peltier made 5 of 7 from the field, including 2 of 3 from 3-point range, to finish with 24 points.
"My teammates rooted me on and gave me confidence to keep shooting," Peltier said.
--Cal State Fullerton and Hawaii were tied 70-70 with less than four minutes to play at the Outrigger Hotel Rainbow Classic in Honolulu on Nov. 14. Eventually fatigue set in and the shorthanded Titans were outscored 14-0 over the final 3:12.
"We just ran out of gas," coach Bob Burton said. "We were really excited to be tied with three minutes to play. It's where we wanted to be, but they made shots and we didn't."
KEEP AN EYE ON: The injury situation should improve in the coming weeks as senior F Jer'Vaughn Johnson, junior F Steve Jurich and junior F Andre Hardy return to the floor. Jurich started the first two games before hurting his back. Hardy, who averaged 7.5 points and 5.5 rebounds at Oral Roberts in 2008-09, is expected to return in December after having surgery to remove bone chips and repair a ligament in his ankle. The Titans desperately need all three of them to fortify their frontline.
STRENGTHS: Orane Chin went from being a backup small forward last season to the team's starting center this season, and he has done quite well. The 6-7, 195-pound junior averaged 19.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.3 steals and one block through the first four games. Another bright spot has been junior G Orlando Brown, who is averaging 7.8 points and a team-high 6.5 rebounds despite standing just 6-1.
WEAKNESSES: If the injured big men don't return soon the Titans are going to open Big West Conference play against UC Davis with a starting center (6-7, 195-pound Orane Chin) who is smaller than the Aggies' point guard (6-8, 215-pound Mark Payne). The Titans are shooting the ball well and try to hold their own on the boards, but they have a minus-4.2 rebounding margin.
LAST YEAR: 16-15 overall, 8-8 in the Big West.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We played selfish at the outset but we got that lineup out of there and sat them down and that changed. They got the message." - Cal State Fullerton coach Bob Burton following a 62-59 victory over San Diego.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
RECRUITING RETURNS: The Titans will have some holes to fill next fall with five seniors on this year's roster, but they did not announce any additions during the early signing period. The biggest losses will be senior F Jer'Vaughn Johnson and senior G Devon Peltier. Junior Perry Webster looks like he may be able to man the point guard position after averaging 7.3 points, five assists and 4.3 rebounds in the first four games, but the Titans will be looking for help in the paint and on the wings.
DECEMBER OUTLOOK: December might be a better month for the Titans. They could get back to full strength with the return of three key frontcourt players, which would alleviate some of the pressure on undersized guards who are being asked to rebound against giants. The Titans will travel to Arizona on Dec. 8 and Portland state on Dec. 12. They will play Occidental at home on Dec. 18 and Montana on Dec. 22 before opening Big West Conference play against UC Davis on Dec. 28.
--Junior F Orane Chin had 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting with 12 rebounds and three steals in the season opener against Central Michigan on Nov. 13. He had a career-high 27 points on 9-of-16 shooting against Hawaii on Nov. 14 and 24 points on 7-of-14 shooting against Montana State on Nov. 15. He also played well in the team's first victory over San Diego on Nov. 21, finishing with 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting with eight rebounds, three assists, three steals and one blocked shot.
--Senior G Devon Peltier shot a team-high 42 percent from 3-point range last season, but he made just 8 of 29 (.276) from beyond the arc in the first four games. Peltier was 1 of 12 from the field and 0 of 7 from 3-point range against Hawaii on Nov. 14.
--Junior G Perry Webster averaged eight points, 5.7 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals at the Outrigger Hotel Rainbow Classic in Honolulu. He had perhaps his best game against Hawaii, finishing with six points, seven assists, five rebounds and two steals.
--Senior G Roger Guardia is a 25-year-old community college transfer with one year of eligibility remaining. Guardia logged nine minutes against Hawaii, seven against Montana State and six against San Diego. He made his only 3-point attempt in the game against Montana State.
Basketball Team Report: November 30th