Senior guard Devon Peltier let it fly from the corner with time winding down. His shot bounced high off the rim and dropped through the net with four-tenths of a second remaining, lifting Cal State Fullerton to a 54-51 victory over Pacific on Dec. 30.
It was a much-needed victory for the Titans, who had lost four of their past five games and had not beaten a Division I opponent since Dec. 4. They also had lost four in a row and 24 of their past 30 against Pacific, which has spent much of the past decade at or near the top of the Big West Conference.
Cal State Fullerton was blown out 88-72 by UC Davis 48 hours earlier in the conference opener. The Titans closed to within one with 14:59 remaining after trailing 36-27 at the break, but the Aggies used 9-0 and 13-0 runs to pull away.
"It's really discouraging to open conference play like this," Cal State Fullerton coach Bob Burton said. "Our team hasn't played together, and our chemistry is not really good. And we're in terrible shape. But the real problem is defensively. We didn't want to zone them, but it brought us back in the second half. We get within one point and all of a sudden we didn't step up."
Burton was naturally more upbeat following the win over Pacific, saying the rare victory over the Tigers showed his team is capable of competing in the Big West.
"It was just a terrific win for us, and, obviously, I thought about what I'd say if we'd lost it," Burton told the Orange County Register. "I was sitting there (on the bench) just kind of thinking about it, and I was really just proud of the effort. If they play like this all the time, we can maybe turn this around and maybe win a few games."
-- Junior F Andre Hardy missed the first 11 games after undergoing ankle surgery, but he had returned to bolster a thin frontline. Hardy, a 6-foot-6 junior transfer from Oral Roberts, averaged 15.7 points and 9.7 rebounds in his first four games. He had had 11 points and 11 rebounds in his Titans debut, a 71-57 loss to Montana on Dec. 22. He had 19 points and nine rebounds in a loss to UC Davis on Dec. 28 and posted 17 points and nine rebounds in a surprising victory over Pacific on Dec. 30.
-- Cal State Fullerton coach Bob Burton knew Hardy was a talented player who would help the Titans with their deficiencies, but he may have underestimated the impact Hardy would have.
"I understand he's not going to go in there and be the answer because the kid hasn't played all year long," Burton told the Orange County Register before Hardy's debut against Montana. "But he can really defend and he can rebound, and that's what this team needs."
BY THE NUMBERS: 305 -- That's where the Titans ranked in rebounding among 345 Division I teams through Jan. 2. They hope the return of junior F Andre Hardy will help them improve upon those numbers, but they also need more from F Jer'Vaughn Johnson, a 6-foot-6, 240-pound senior who was averaging 5.3 rebounds on the season and just 4.5 over the past four games.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "In the second half, we really challenged (our players). We basically said, 'If you're not going to play defense, you're not going to play.' That's going to be the biggest thing with us: Who's going to go out and defend for us?" -- Cal State Fullerton coach Bob Burton, to the Orange County Register, after his team turned a five-point halftime lead into a 78-46 victory over Occidental.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
-- at UC Irvine, Jan. 5
KEY MATCHUPS: Two senior forwards will present a contrast in styles when Cal State Fullerton's Jer'Vaughn Johnson matches up with UC Irvine's Pavol Losonsky. Johnson, a 6-foot-6, 240-pound player from Compton, Calif., was averaging 15 points and 5.4 rebounds going into conference play. Losonsky, a 6-8, 235-pound player from Slovakia, was averaging 8.1 points and 4.4 rebounds. He has demonstrated an improved perimeter game this season, making six of 16 from 3-point range over the first 12 games. Johnson, who prefers to play closer to the basket, had attempted only four 3-point shots and had yet to make one this season.
-- at UC Riverside, Jan. 8
KEY MATCHUPS: UC Riverside was the best rebounding team in the Big West Conference through the first 11 games. Cal State Fullerton was among the worst. Junior F Tyquan Brown led the Highlanders with 5.1 rebounds per game through Jan. 2, but the key for the Titans may be keeping guards such as Phil Martin (4.9 rpg) and Kareem Nitoto (3.5 rpg) off the glass.
-- Junior F Orane Chin has improved his production dramatically since his sophomore season. Chin averaged 15.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists through the first 14 games, up from his 2009-10 averages of 7.4 points, 3.6 rebounds and 0.7 assists.
-- Junior F Andre Hardy was ejected for fighting with 2:57 remaining in a 54-51 victory over Pacific on Dec. 30. The Orange County Register reported that Hardy retaliated after Pacific F Pat Eveland threw an elbow into his stomach. Hardy will serve a one-game suspension when the Titans play UC Irvine on Jan. 5.
-- Junior G Perry Webster averaged 8.7 points, 5.8 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 1.3 steals in his first 14 games for the Titans. He was second in the Big West Conference in assists. Perry scored a season-high 17 points against Cal State Bakersfield on Nov. 27 and had twice recorded 10 assists, first against San Diego on Dec. 4 and then against Portland State on Dec. 12.
-- Junior F Sedric Martin received a technical foul for dunking during warmups before the Titans played Pacific on Dec. 30. Pacific G Demetrece Young made two free throws before the opening tipoff to give the Tigers a 2-0 lead.