SAN JOSE — No, it wasn't the flu. Cal State Fullerton Coach George McQuarn has grown sick and tired of telling people how sick and tired his team is, and said Saturday that coughs and fevers will no longer be used to explain away Fullerton's shortcomings.
Aside from a few sniffles, the players Fullerton won with in December are generally healthy as they enter the final week of January. So McQuarn wasn't about to recite his players' medical charts after Saturday's 62-53 Pacific Coast Athletic. Assn. loss to San Jose State in front of 1,491 in the San Jose Civic Auditorium.
"You're not going to hear me talk about that for the rest of the year," McQuarn said. "That stuff's behind us."
What is still staring the Titans squarely in the face, however, is a six-game losing streak and the fact that if the PCAA's postseason tournament were held today, they would have to buy tickets to get in.
A month ago, when the Titans were 7-1, a few folks around Fullerton were contemplating the number of victories it would take to get an invitation to the NCAA Tournament. Now, the Titans will have to scramble to climb out of the bottom of the PCAA. Saturday's loss, their seventh in the last eight games, drops them to 1-6 in conference, 8-8 overall.
Junior forward Reggie Owens, who had 16 points and 9 rebounds, made 7 of 8 shots from the field to lead San Jose State (5-3, 9-8) to its third straight victory. The Spartans took the lead late in the first half and never lost it. Fullerton made a token run, cutting a 16-point lead to 52-46 with 4:43 left, but could get no closer.
Ricky Berry hit a baseline jump shot and free throw to extend the Spartans' lead to 55-46 with 4:10 to play, draining the Titans of whatever momentum they had built in a 12-2 scoring spurt.
"If we could have kept them from scoring and cut it to four, it would have been interesting to see what would have happened in those last four minutes," McQuarn said. "Instead, they get a three-point play."
Berry, who scored 31 points Thursday night against UC Santa Barbara, had only one point in the first half and finished with 11. But Owens, a bruising power forward better known for his rebounding, compensated with a scoring performance that included some rather uncharacteristic long-range jumpers.
"I think I can make those shots," Owens said. "That's why I shot them. The way they were overplaying Ricky, it opened a few things up for me. They may think they took Ricky out of the game somewhat, but they didn't really."
If the Titans were looking for some consolation, guard Richard Morton had his best offensive game since Dec. 23. Playing in front of his family and in the arena in which he was injured last season in a collision with a basket support, Morton was 11 of 19 from the field and finished with a season-high 24 points.
"I was more pumped up for this game than I've been for a while," Morton said. "I wanted to play well in front of my family. I didn't want to come in here and embarrass myself or get hurt like last year."
But Titan forward Henry Turner, who was burdened with having to guard Berry most of the game, was only 4 of 17 from the floor, leaving Fullerton in a now-familiar struggle to find more offense. The Titans shot 40.7% (22 of 54) from the field. Turner, with 11 points, was the only Fullerton player besides Morton to score in double figures.
McQuarn said he can't explain this latest in a series of Fullerton losses. He would only say that it wasn't something that antibiotics could cure.
"With the condition we're in now, hopefully we can win some ballgames at home, keep our fingers crossed on the road and hope we make the PCAA Tournament," he said.
And to think that, in December, the Titans had other tournaments in mind.