The story of the Fullerton men’s basketball team this season has been like a rollercoaster: lots of ups and lots of downs.
Less than two years ago the Titans qualified for the NCAA tournament, but 12 games into this season, they have a below .500 record (6-6 Overall, 1-1 in Conference). However, despite the less than stellar early season, the Titans accomplished something this season that they had never done before. After their first nine games against UCLA, the Bruins held a commanding 9-0 record against the Titans. All of that changed Nov. 16th, when the Titans finally defeated the perennial powerhouse UCLA.
The game was a teeter-totter as Fullerton led most of the game, but both sides exchanged leads several times. After 40 long play minutes of regulation, the Bruins and Titans were deadlocked in a 57-57 tie and overtime play was needed. The first overtime period moved slowly due to the lack of conditioning in the early season. Both exhausted offenses could only muster up three points, paving the way for a second overtime. The Titans then jumped out to five point lead off scores by both senior forward Aaron Thompson and sophomore point guard Jacques Streeter to put the Titans up 65-60, and from there CSUF was able to hang on for a 68-65 double overtime victory. The entire Fullerton team was ecstatic after the win.
“It was an extreme accomplishment,” Associate Head Coach Andy Newman said. “It was on par with going to the NCAA tournament two years ago.”
For Head Coach Bob Burton and Newman, it was their first win over UCLA in their seventh year at the helm of the Titans. In their brief tenure, the coaching duo has racked up 107 wins and qualified for the NCAA tournament, but last year the Titans had a sub .500 record and could be on their way to a similar fate this year. Newman, along with the players, believed that the victory over UCLA could jumpstart the team into a successful season. However, so far this has not happened and the Titans have been ice cold on the road going 1-5. Surprisingly, that one win came against UCLA.
“The win gave us a lot of hope … it still does,” Newman said.
Thus far, Fullerton’s weakness has been their offense. They are averaging 71.1 points per game, which ranks third in the Big West Conference, but nonetheless, their poor accuracy occasionally costs them victories.
“Our concentration is not where it needs to be,” senior forward Gerard Anderson said.
Their offense is led by Jer’Vaughn Johnson who averages 11 points, 5.7 rebounds and 28.6 minutes per game. Thompson is also making a significant impact with 10.2 points and 25.2 minutes per game.
“We’re very hungry to get another win,” Anderson said. The forward is a major contributor as well, with seven points per game and leads the team with 45 steals in the season.
Sloppy shooting cost the Titans’ their Big West opener against Davis last Saturday. The Titans made only 15 of 28 attempts from the foul line and shot only 27 percent (6 for 22) from behind the arc. Despite out-rebounding the Aggies, Fullerton committed 19 turnovers on their way to a 67-63 loss. Streeter, Johnson and junior center Bryce Webster each had nine points in the defeat.
With Big West play just beginning, Fullerton’s inconsistency makes them a unique team as they have the ability to play for the conference title or even for just a spot in the conference tournament.
“We can finish anywhere in the spectrum,” Newman said. “We have the ability to play with anybody in the country, but we also have the ability to play badly.”
Despite their slow start, Anderson believes the team can win the Big West Tournament. And with their poor non-conference record, winning the tournament is Fullerton’s only shot of qualifying for the Big West Tournament.
“We want to finish in the top 3 spots to better our chances at competing in the Big West Tournament,” the senior said.
As Big West teams play each other every year, there are no surprises with play calling, and Anderson believes the key to victory will be toughness.
“We have to be physical [to win],” Anderson said. “It’s all about out-hustling”