UC Irvine didn't get the high-scoring game it has come to expect lately from guard Jerry Green, but the Anteaters got past Cal State Fullerton without it Saturday night.
Green, averaging 27 points in the previous five games, was held to 11 by the Titans, but Irvine extended its winning streak to nine games with a 62-54 Big West Conference victory in front of 1,182 in Titan Gym.
"Green missed some shots, but they're not a one-man team," Fullerton Coach Donny Daniels said. "They're well-balanced. They take what you give them, and exploit it."
The streak is Irvine's longest since the Anteaters won their first nine games in the 1981-82 season on the way to a 23-7 record. The victory kept Irvine (13-2, 5-0) tied for first in the Big West with Utah State.
Irvine Coach Pat Douglass was more pleased with the 5-0 start in the conference than anything else.
"That was the goal we established about two weeks ago, and we did that," Douglass said. "We won a conference game on the road, and you have to feel good about that."
Fullerton, which fell to 2-13 and 1-4 in the conference, played without three players considered starters at the start of the season, and learned only Friday that Ike Harmon, the team's scoring and rebounding leader, will be sidelined indefinitely because of another stress fracture found in the foot he injured in preseason practice.
Center Matt Caldwell has been sidelined since Dec. 22 because of swollen lymph nodes, and guard Brandon Campbell decided to redshirt because of a sprained left knee. Reserve forward Joe Travis sat out his third consecutive game because of a knee injury.
That didn't leave Fullerton with an abundance of firepower going against an opponent that hasn't lost since dropping a five-point decision Dec. 16 at UCLA. But the Titans gave Irvine a run with a solid second half. Fullerton trailed by 15 points at halftime.
Fullerton guard Kevin Richardson scored a game-high 20 points, 16 of them in the second half. The Titans got 39 points from their three starting guards, with David Castleton getting 13 and Ryan Dillon adding six. But the Titans struggled inside without Harmon.
"I think we've been kind of discouraged because of all the injuries, but we turned it around in the second half," Richardson said. "We have to keep playing like that."
Richardson made nine of 14 shots from the field, including two of five from three-point range.
Richardson also turned in a solid defensive effort against Green, who was five of 12 from the floor. But the Anteaters got strong inside play from reserve J.R. Christ, who made five of eight shots to finish with 12 points.
"I was off tonight," Green said. "In fact, we were all off. It happens. You've just got to move on."
Fullerton fell behind, 33-18, at halftime, hurt by 12 turnovers.
Irvine forced two for easy layups and led, 8-0, before Fullerton's first field goal with slightly more than five minutes gone in the first half.
The Anteaters went on to build a 20-5 cushion on strong inside play by freshman center Adam Parada, but Castleton scored nine points to help keep Irvine from building an even bigger lead late in the first half.
"We had a bunch of turnovers early in the game," Daniels said. "It was a typical pattern of us turning the ball over too often. We continued to put ourselves in bad situations, but we did better in the second half. We have to make some defensive stops and do a better job of taking care of the ball."
Fullerton made an abrupt turnaround early in the second half.
The Titans went on an 11-point run with Richardson and Dillon making consecutive three-pointers to cut the Irvine lead to 39-33. Another three-pointer by Richardson closed the gap to four points at 42-38. But Green drove for a key basket to keep Fullerton from getting closer.
Irvine led by only seven points with slightly more than three minutes left, but reserve Aras Baskauskas made a three-pointer to keep Irvine in control.
The Anteaters will play five of their next six games on the road. "We've got a tough stretch coming up, but it's exciting," Douglass said.
Irvine plays at UC Santa Barbara Thursday and at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Saturday. Fullerton is at Cal Poly Thursday and at Santa Barbara Saturday.