Cal State Fullerton and Cal State Long Beach both advanced to the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. Tournament Saturday night. One accomplished this by taking a small step forward. The other backed in.
Fullerton handed Long Beach its seventh straight loss, fighting off the 49ers' second-half comeback for a 72-67 victory in front of 2,916 in Titan Gym.
Junior guard Richard Morton had 20 points for the Titans. Senior center Herman Webster, playing his last game in Titan Gym, had 13 points and 8 rebounds to lead Fullerton to the victory it needed to escape playing top-ranked Nevada Las Vegas in the first round of the PCAA tournament Thursday in the Forum.
The Titans concluded the regular season tied for fourth in the conference standings at 9-9, 16-11 overall. So, for the third straight season, Fullerton will open the tournament against UC Irvine, which swept its two games with the Titans this season.
The 49ers adjourned to their locker room to await word from San Jose, where the University of the Pacific needed a victory over San Jose State to get into the tournament and knock Long Beach out. San Jose State gave Long Beach (7-11, 12-18) a gentle shove by winning, 70-65.
Long Beach is fortunate to be playing in the PCAA, the equal opportunity conference of college basketball. For the 49ers, the only numbers that continue to mount are the ones in the loss column. Coach Ron Palmer's roster appears to be getting thinner with each passing game.
On Friday, junior guard Morlon Wiley, the 49ers' leading scorer, became the second player in one week to be suspended from the team. Last Saturday, forward Andre Purry was suspended for violating team rules. The action against Wiley left Palmer with only nine players in uniform against the Titans.
"Morlon was suspended for disciplinary reasons," Palmer said without elaborating. "We're going to meet later to discuss his future."
Palmer made it clear that Wiley's future would not include playing in Long Beach's tournament game against Nevada Las Vegas. He also implied that it wasn't easy to suspend the guard he had coached since both were still at Long Beach Poly High School.
"This is the first time, let's see, since 1983 that Morlon hasn't suited up in a game for me," he said. "That's a lot of games. That goes all the way back to his junior year at Long Beach Poly."
The 49ers didn't seem to miss Wiley much in rallying to turn what appeared to be the latest in a series of lopsided losses into a close game. Long Beach trailed, 38-24, at halftime but cut Fullerton's lead to five points late in the second half. The 49ers shot 39% from the floor in the first half but improved that to 59% in the second. Forward Rudy Harvey led Long Beach with 21 points.
Fullerton Coach George McQuarn was impressed with the way Long Beach woke up in the second half.
"To say that we went flat would minimize what Long Beach State did," he said. "It's very difficult to get kids going when you're losing, and they had lost six in a row. They really came after us. I'm glad the darn thing is over."
Fullerton forward Derek Jones is glad his season isn't over. Jones hit the floor when he was fouled by Long Beach's Tony Ronzone on a breakaway dunk with 4:22 left in the first half. Jones dislocated his left shoulder for the second time in two weeks, but he had the shoulder popped back into place and returned to play in the second half. This is the recurrence of a chronic shoulder injury for Jones, but he said it was not as bad as it looked.