Titans Can't Figure Out Winning Formula

Assistant coach Rob Orellana stared across the court into the raucous Gersten Pavilion crowd Saturday night with a blank expression on his face. Point guard Zakee Smith sat two chairs down from Orellana on the bench with his head in his hands, looking down at the floor as the final seconds ticked away.

Smith couldn't bear to watch as the Cal State Fullerton men's basketball team fell to 1-4 on the season in a 75-68 loss to the Loyola Marymount Lions Saturday night.

The Titans jumped out to an early 14-5 lead, but as time wound down, so did their defense and with 5:01 left in the first half, Justin Dickens made two free throws to give Loyola Marymount a 31-29 lead. A lead they would never relinquish.

"It was a game of spurts," said head coach Donny Daniels, who watched his team shoot 45 percent from the field. "We were good early, and bad late."

Trailing 42-33 at the half, the lead grew to 13 before the Titans began to make a late push.

"We just got to do the little things to get over the hump," said forward Bron Groomes who converted on a three-point play down low with 2:42 left in the game to cut the Lions lead to one.

But a missed free throw by Smith, a turnover by Brandon Campbell and a huge rebound by Lions' guard Wes Wardrop with 1:03 left to play after the Titans had forced a miss, put any hopes of a comeback to rest.

"We let one slip through our fingertips," Titan guard Ralphy Holmes said.

The Lions (4-3) haven't had much luck against the Titans in recent history losing five of the last six meetings, and almost gave another one away by shooting 32 percent from the field in the second half. But Titans failed to capitalize running out of gas down the stretch.

"[Loyola Marymount] got some opportunistic turnovers," Daniels said. "If you turn the ball over in the late stages of the game, you're going to lose. It's as simple as that."

In a game that would have been a coming out party for Pape Sow as the true leader of this team, ended instead simply as Daniels put it…"another good game for Pape, in a loss."

After some early foul trouble, Sow came out in the second half and demanded the ball. When he put himself in position down on the block, he expected to be fed inside. So did the Lions, who played a zone that would have two men collapse on Sow every time he touched the ball.

Despite the attention, he called for the responsibility of carrying the team, yelling at his teammates, "Give me the ball," whenever they wouldn't throw it inside.

Scoring against double-teams and making clutch free throws, Sow brought the Titans back into the game.

"He played like a man," Daniels said. "He played like I expect him too."

Sow led the Titans with 19 points and 10 rebounds and Groomes finished with 15 points, but scored only five in the second half. No other Titan finished with more than nine points.

Forward Andy Osborn led a well-balanced Loyola Marymount attack with 15 points. The Lions lacked a go-to guy but didn't need one, as four players ended the night in double figures pleasing the 1,281 fans in attendance.

The fans in "the cage", a chain-linked portion of the bleachers where the LMU faithful stand to heckle and throw insults at the opposing team, chanted "Ralphy" repeatedly after any mistake the 6-foot-4-inch guard made.

"They had a nice crowd," Holmes said. "They made me laugh."

It seemed to have an effect on Holmes, who is averaging 20 points per game, but finished with only nine points in 30 minutes and played out of sync the whole night, turning the ball over three times and committing fouls.

"I don't think it was the crowd," Daniels said of Holmes' off night. "He tried to do things too fast. He took himself out."

The Titans will need Holmes to find his shooting touch if they're going to be competitive in their next game against USC on Dec. 11 at the L.A. Sports Arena.

"Hopefully we can bounce back," Holmes said.

Campbell, who played in his first game since a Nov. 18 surgery, scored six points and grabbed three rebounds in 22 minutes. Showing zero signs of discomfort on the floor, he later said he was playing in pain.

"It's killing me," Campbell said of his left foot. "But I have to play through it. I don't have a choice."

Campbell could not say if he would be ready to go for the USC game on Wednesday.

"It's game to game right now," he said. "I can't even call it."