GOLETA, Calif. — Cal State Fullerton's last two shots Thursday must have felt for all the world like the whole season embodied in a handful of seconds.
Both shots hit the rim and bounded away.
How the Titans, who scored just 15 points in the first half against UC Santa Barbara, came as near to victory as two in-and-out shots in the final four seconds was hard to figure. But--to the good fortune of the Gauchos--Richard Morton's 17-foot shot and Henry Turner's 12-foot follow shot both missed, and Santa Barbara held on for a 57-56 win in front of 3,849 in the Events Center.
For the Gauchos, it was a close call that shouldn't have been.
"It would have been a very demoralizing defeat," said Jerry Pimm, Santa Barbara coach. "It was a semi-demoralizing victory."
The Titans, who trailed by as many as 18, came back behind Morton's 22 second-half points--including four of five three-pointers. "I'd say the right two guys shot it, wouldn't you?" said George McQuarn, Fullerton coach.
Morton finished with 31 points and Turner with 14.
Fullerton cut the lead to nine points with less than six minutes remaining on a three-pointer by Morton. Two minutes later, Morton hit another three-pointer, making it 51-45, and Santa Barbara called timeout.
It didn't slow the Titans' run. Turner made a steal, and ended it in a two-handed rear-back dunk that left Santa Barbara with just a four-point lead.
The Gauchos got it back to six--in part thanks to a three-pointer by Brian Shaw, who led Santa Barbara with 17 points. But with just more than a minute remaining and the Titans in a fullcourt trap, Turner made a steal and hit a jumper from the foul line. Turner stole the ball again on the Gauchos' next possession, and Morton hit a three-pointer that made it 55-54.
Santa Barbara finally broke Fullerton's press on its next possession, but Carlton Davenport missed an open layup. Titan Vincent Blow was fouled in the battle for the rebound and made two free throws, giving Fullerton a 56-55 lead with 36 seconds remaining. After a Santa Barbara timeout, Shaw scored quickly on a 10-foot bank shot off a double-screen, giving the Gauchos a one-point lead with 23 seconds left.
Fullerton called a timeout with 15 seconds remaining, and then Morton and Turner each missed in the final seconds.
Fullerton (6-13, 2-10) had trailed, 31-15, at the half after going 10:44 without scoring and making only 6 of 27 shots (22%).
"That probably meant we were so deeply behind it was just impossible," McQuarn said.
In the first half, Morton scored nine points, Turner had five and Blow had one. That was it.
The Gauchos, after an 11-1 start this season that included an upset of Nevada Las Vegas in the Rebels' Thomas & Mack Center, have gone 4-3 in their past seven games.
They had appeared to have a good chance of becoming the first team other than UNLV to win the conference since the Rebels joined the PCAA before the 1982-83 season.
But they have struggled in conference play, losing three times in games they had led by large margins.
Saturday, they play UNLV again, this time in the Gauchos' Events Center.
For the Titans, it was another of the type game that has become routine--a close loss. Although 2-8 in the PCAA, they have not lost by more than 12 points. That was to Santa Barbara in Titan Gym in January.
"This win might have had a chance to really turn things around for us," McQuarn said.
But he, like Morton, couldn't find fault with what the Titans did at the end.
"After that I let go of that shot, it felt pretty good," Morton said. "Even though it went in and out, I still felt good. I thought Henry's would go. But it went out too."