All the talk about Fullerton was how they were going to play tempo, slow it down and shorten the game to give them a better chance to win. They were successful all night, avoiding any real Aggie runs and keeping themselves within reach. The Ags didn't start slow like they did on Thursday, but they didn't start fast either. We were treated with an opening 3-point bucket by Ross, but it was fools gold. We proceeded to miss our next 7 from the arc and were taking way too many of them, IMO.
Fullerton then made the mistake that possibly cost them the game. In their tight zone, they were sagging off of Mark Brown and were basically begging him to take the outside shot. Almost reluctantly he obliged, nailing 2 to close out the first half and nailing 2 more in the early stages of the 2nd half. DP came around and hit a couple threes late and even Butler drained one from the right wing. By the end of the game we had recovered our 3-point shooting to 40% on 8-20 shots.
On the other side of it, Fullerton just plain shot the lights out. I don't have their stats, but if that isn't the best performance by them from the floor this year, then they are an extremely underrated team. I think we looked past them a bit either way, but what we were looking at I don't know. The Aggies lacked energy all night. We were caught standing around on the boards several times and made poor decisions on the break that cost us critical scoring chances and more importantly, momentum. But poor D wasn't always to blame as Ralphie Holmes and Bolton were unconscious. They combined for 35 points on 15-25 shooting.
Fullerton played at their pace, but when they ran, they were effective and got some really easy buckets off the break. They usually came when we had stretched the lead to 4-5 points, and it was an elastic lead that repeated it's pattern all night long. When it got down to crunch time, the Aggies began to hit some big threes, but Fullerton answered each one. The thing that saved us was clutch free throw shooting by Butler and Nelson. Had they not converted, Ralphie's 3 at the buzzer could have meant so much more.
I'm going to give Fullerton their due. They played tough, executed an excellent game plan, hit their shots and didn't lose their composure. It's gotta be tough for them to shoot 62% from the floor and still lose. They really missed a chance to steal one in Logan.
The Aggies ended up winning with the final of 61-60.
Spencer Nelson. If he's capable of having an off night, we saw it tonight. He fanned on his first two free throws, missed shots inside he would normally make and lacked the energy we've become used to seeing. He did hit his clutch shots from the line late, though, and his line of 8 points (2-5) with 7 boards is nothing to be ashamed of.
Cardell Butler came to play. Some had suggested that his position was possibly a mismatch that the Titans could exploit, but it wasn't to be. Butler was solid all night, and especially so in the last 10 minutes. He hit a 3, had two huge buckets in the paint and was ice at the line with just a 2 point cushion to protect. He finished with 15 points on 5-10 shooting, went 4-5 from the line, had 3 offensive rebounds and 2 assists.
Desmond struggled bad tonight. I remember commenting that he was having a road game at home. If people wanted to see what happens to Des on the road, I think they saw it tonight. He was cold early, started raining misguided threes and wasn't active on the glass. He turned his game around in the 2nd half, though. He hit 2 critical threes from the right corner late in the game that helped him boost his scoring. He finished with 11 (4-10), went 1-2 from the line and corraled just 4 boards. Fullerton only missed 16 shots all night, so rebounds were scarce, but Des should have done more.
Mark Brown joined the scoring part of the offense with the score tied at 25. he hit threes on consecutive possessions that sent the Aggies in at the break with a 6 point lead. He was left so open it could only have been insulting, so he cashed in on their ignorace with a nice stroke from outside. He went 4-7 from the arc, but like TB in years past, everything looked good off his hand. When he missed, it wasn't by much. brown hit 5-9 for 14 points and 4 assists. He had an unusual 3 turnovers in his 35 minutes.
Toraino Johnson had moments of brilliance. I thought we was going to spark a nice Aggie run when he scored back-to-back buckets on a break and then on a Mark Brown steal from the inbounds, but the Titans regrouped and kept their composure. TJ had 6 rebounds to go with his 8 points. His D was very good all night.
For how well Mike Stowell played on Thursday, he made up for it in a bad way tonight. His 0-1 shooting and 2 assists in 5 minutes don't seem that bad, but he was so tentative and indecisive on offense that he brought our scoring to a crawl while he was in. He passed on at least two open threes, and the shot he did take he needlessly double-clutched. He misses several openings to feed a player in the post. I was pulling my hair out and was relieved when he finally sat down. I'm not sure why he was intimidated, but he didn't give us the lift we're used to seeing from his energy.
Ross hit is first three to open the night's scoring, then proceeded to miss his next 5 shots, forcing some of them and shooting from deep too early in the shot clock. His D was fine, so he got to play 19 minutes, but we sure could have used a more complete game from him. It seems our fate this year to have Butler, Ross or neither play well, but never do both of them come on the same night.
I already commented on Bolton and Holmes, but they single-handedly kept the Titans in the game. Had either or both of them played an average game, the Aggies would have won by double digits. Hats off to some really tough players who brought it, and fell one point short. I expect the return trip to tiny Titan gym to be one of our toughest road games of the year.
Next week we get a road trip to Moscow where we will undoubtedly see more of the same. The Vandals are a tempo team that crashes the boards. Let's hope the Fullerton game is useful practice so we can get some winning momentum on the road.