The UC Irvine-Cal State Fullerton rivalry has produced more than its share of exciting basketball over the years, but Saturday night, the Anteaters and Titans added a new dimension to their rivalry: prime-time wrestling.
Henry Turner's body slam of Irvine's Steve Florentine was the main event of the first half, and the Titans' inability to get off a three-pointer in the final 19 seconds was the climax of the second.
Wayne Engelstad, who led the Anteaters with 23 points, made two free throws with three seconds remaining after Fullerton's Van Anderson missed a layup, and Irvine held on for a 70-65 Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. victory in front of 2,547 in the Bren Center.
With 10:42 remaining in the first half, Turner and Florentine, who had been exchanging elbows for several minutes, got tangled up in front of the Irvine bench. A second later, in a move that would make Hulk Hogan proud, Turner got one of Florentine's legs up off the ground and drove him to the floor. Referee Bill Simmons was the third person on the pile.
Captains Engelstad of Irvine and Richard Morton of Fullerton helped to keep the incident from evolving into a full-blown, bench-clearing brawl.
When Turner finally untangled himself from the fracas, he was greeted by a high five from teammate Bobby Adair. Nobody in a Titan uniform was celebrating a minute later, however, when the officials announced that both players would be ejected for flagrant fouls.
Turner is averaging 17 points and 8 rebounds. Florentine is averaging 3 points and 2 rebounds.
"They certainly got the best of that," Titan Coach George McQuarn said. "Maybe we should have traded (reserve John) Sykes for Engelstad in the second half,"
With Turner gone, Morton--the only other Titan averaging more than seven points a game--was the designated scorer. He responded with 28 points, hitting 10 of 15 field goals and 8 of 10 free throws. He was supposed to get one more shot after McQuarn called a timeout with 19 seconds remaining and Fullerton (6-14 overall and 2-9 in the PCAA) trailing, 68-65.
Irvine Coach Bill Mulligan had other plans, however.
"I saw him coming off a double screen near the top, so I picked him up," Engelstad said. "Coach said if all five of us had to guard him not to let him get that shot."
With about five seconds left, Titan guard Eugene Jackson passed to Anderson, who was all alone under the basket. Anderson missed, though, and Engelstad got the rebound and was fouled.
"Everybody in the arena, including all the Irvine players, knew we wanted Morton to shoot the three-pointer," McQuarn said. "They were all over him. Jackson did the only thing he could do.
"They were hanging on him and holding him all night . . . and that really wears a player down," McQuarn said. "He had a hell of a night, but he just couldn't get free in the end."
Fullerton's three-pointer that never was wasn't the only difference, though. Irvine (11-9, 6-5) made 10 of 15 three pointers on the night. Engelstad was 3 of 4 from beyond the 19-foot 9-inch stripe and freshman Justin Anderson made 3 of 5.
"We felt we had to get as much help inside on Engelstad as possible," McQuarn said. "We just hoped the (Justin) Andersons of the world wouldn't beat us from out there. But their three-pointers killed us."
The loss of Turner was obviously a key factor, too. Turner had no comment about the incident, but Florentine had plenty to say.
"We had been exchanging elbows up and down the court, then I told him to (quit it)," Florentine said. "He gave me one and I gave him one and then he slugged me in the back of the head. I turned around and after that it wasn't a basketball game anymore. It was a fight.
"At halftime, I told the guys, 'I took care of their second-leading scorer, now you guys take care of Morton.' "
Irvine hardly stopped Morton, but the Anteaters--with four players taking turns guarding him--did make him work for his points. After Saturday night at the fights and the loss of Turner, Morton drew a crowd every time he touched the ball.
"It's tough to lose a guy like Turner who's scoring 17 points," Morton said. "This was a really frustrating loss for us. We set up a play for me to come over the top of a double screen, but they had four guys on me."
Irvine's offense centers on Engelstad, but Mulligan has a wealth of offensive weapons, compared to McQuarn. Guard Kevin Floyd hit 7 of 11 shots from the floor, including 2 of 3 three-pointers, and scored 17. Anderson added 12.
Reserve Bobby Adair, who had 12 points, was the only Titan other than Morton to score in double figures.