FULLERTON — Cal State Fullerton found the perfect remedy for its flu-stricken basketball team Saturday night: Take five Panthers and see me in the morning.
With Division II Chapman College providing little resistance in the last 10 minutes of the first half, the Titans opened a huge lead and cruised to an 86-66 victory before 1,722 in Titan Gym.
Junior guard Joe Small scored 29 points, making five of seven three-pointers, to help Fullerton (6-2) win its sixth consecutive game, the Titans' longest victory streak since 1986-87 when they won seven straight games between one-point losses at Texas Tech and UCLA.
Senior forward Ron Caldwell added 16 points, junior point guard Wayne Williams had 12 points and eight assists. Sophomore center Aaron Wilhite scored 12 points, giving him double-figure performances in every game this season.
Junior forward Roger Middleton led the Panthers (6-5) with 18 points, including 16 in the second half, before fouling out with 6:20 remaining. Senior forward Zlatko Josic added 16 points.
Fullerton put the game away in the first half, outscoring Chapman, 30-9, in the final nine minutes to take a 49-26 halftime lead. The Panthers had trouble with the Titans' full-court press, but many of their 15 first-half turnovers were unforced.
Small shot an air ball from the right corner at the 10-minute mark but didn't miss much the rest of the half. He made four three-pointers and scored 14 points in the Titans' 30-9 run.
Fullerton maintained a comfortable lead throughout the second half, and Titan Coach John Sneed was able to play seldom-used reserves Tom Parada, Michael Bloodworth and Jason Kerian late in the game.
"Our goal was to have a good first half, get everyone in the game and have a Merry Christmas," Sneed said. "We played well in the first half except for our rebounding game, and we put it in cruise control for a while in the second half. We didn't play as hard as I would have liked."
With five of Fullerton's top eight players recovering from the flu, the Panthers were a welcome sight for the Titans, especially Small.
Chapman didn't have anyone quick enough to stick with Small and most of his points came on open jumpers. He made 10 of 15 field goal attempts and only two of his baskets came from inside the key.
After scoring 18 points in the first half, Small made a three-pointer and two jumpers early in the second, eliciting a new chant from Titan fans: "It's a Small world after all, it's a Small world after all. . . . "
Said Josic: "Joe deserves all the credit--he lit us up and that was basically the difference. We went in with confidence. They're not that much better--maybe a little taller--but in terms of athletic ability, I thought we matched up pretty well."
Last week, Sneed was concerned that his players wouldn't get excited about playing a Division II team. But after struggling to beat a weak Portland team Thursday night, Small said the Titans weren't about to take the Panthers lightly.
"We found out Thursday we can get beat by anyone and we didn't want that to happen against a Division II team," Small said. "We got together among ourselves before the game and had the right attitude. I think we played hard."
Chapman played hard and gave Fullerton fits on the boards, but the Panthers couldn't get much offense going until the second half, when they had success pushing the ball inside to Middleton, the former Tustin High School standout.
Chapman pulled to 72-56 when Josic scored on a layup off a Titan turnover. But Caldwell responded with a three-point play on the other end to put Fullerton ahead by 19.
Caldwell made six of eight field-goal attempts and had eight rebounds. Williams was also more of an offensive factor, making four of 10 shots, including a three-pointer, after struggling with a 30% field-goal percentage in seven previous games.
"I was getting really frustrated," Williams said. "I was beginning to think I couldn't shoot. I think I was trying too hard to score instead of letting the game come to me."
Illness came to the Titans this past week, and Sneed said several players were sniffling Saturday night. But Fullerton will have three days off over the Christmas holiday to recover and another three days to prepare for Colorado State (7-2).
Saturday's game was the Titans' last nonconference contest and should give Sneed an indication of how well his team will perform entering Big West Conference play, which begins Jan. 2 at Fresno State. Fullerton then plays at Nevada Las Vegas on Jan. 4.
"I think in the last six games our inside play has really picked up and that's making us a better ballclub," Sneed said. "We're not just a perimeter team like we've been in the past.
"But both of our defenses, our man-to-man and matchup zone, have to improve. Our offense as a whole has been pretty good, but we have to get better on defense."