MISSOULA, Mont. — Before Wednesday night, Cal State Fullerton Coach George McQuarn had little idea how the Titans' odd mix of proven players and inexperienced talent would mesh in a basketball game.
Not knowing may have been preferable to this.
Fullerton, which has its top two scorers back but relies heavily on four new players, fell 17 points behind Montana before staging a comeback that came up short, 71-66, before a crowd of 5,693 at Dahlberg Arena.
The Titans are 0-4 in games against Montana and have lost three of their last four season openers. The only victory in the past four openers was by one point over St. Mary's in 1984.
Fullerton (0-1) fell behind in the first half by making only 10 of 34 shots (29%).
Montana (3-0) closed off the inside with a zone defense, leaving Fullerton with little more than the three-point shot.
But Richard Morton, Fullerton's leading scorer last season and the Titans' only apparent outside threat this season, was struggling. Morton finished with 21 points but made only 8 of 21 shots and missed 10 of 13 three-point attempts.
The rest of the Titans didn't exactly help out. Fullerton missed nine shots in the lane in the first half, and the only other Titans in double figures were Henry Turner and Oval Miller, with 10 points apiece.
The Titans fell behind, 43-26, less than two minutes into the second half, but several Montana turnovers and tough halfcourt defense brought them back. Fullerton took its first lead of the game, 53-52, with 9:10 remaining and led by as many as three.
But Montana, led by K.C. McGowan with 20 points, went ahead by five with two minutes left, and Fullerton never caught up.
Morton cut it to 69-66 on a three-point shot with 1:10 remaining, but his next two three-point attempts hit the rim and bounced out, and Montana held on.
"We were real out of sync," McQuarn said. "We've got guys who have been playing here three or four years and then new guys. You don't know what's going to happen when you have that."
Other than Morton and Turner, Fullerton's starters combined for only 12 points. Veteran guard Eugene Jackson scored eight points. John Sykes, a sophomore center who did not play basketball anywhere last season after transferring from Texas, scored four points. Vincent Blow, a senior but somewhat inexperienced forward did not score.
Three of the Titans' top four substitutes did not play last season. Bobby Adair, a forward who scored four points, was a Titan redshirt after transferring from Utah. Marlon Vaughn, who was ineligible under the NCAA's Proposition 48, scored three points. Van Anderson, who was a redshirt last season, scored two.
Montana's other two victories--both by four points--were over Wisconsin-Stout and Eastern Montana.