Regardless of how far the Cal State Fullerton men's basketball team advances in the Big West Conference tournament, Gerard Anderson has made a lasting impression.
With just over 11 minutes remaining in the Titans' first-round game Wednesday against Cal State Northridge, the Fullerton forward finished a fastbreak by leaping over Vinnie McGhee as the 6-foot guard attempted to take a charge, then forcefully slammed the ball with one hand.
The sparse crowd leapt to its feet inside the Anaheim Convention Center, signifying the signature moment in the 84-76 victory by Fullerton.
"Guys who say slam dunks are only worth two points are out of it," Fullerton Coach Bob Burton said. "That was a touchdown."
Anderson finished with 15 points and a career-high seven assists for the fifth-seeded Titans, one of several contributions that allowed them to win their tournament opener for the fourth consecutive season and move on to play fourth-seeded UC Davis in tonight's second round at approximately 8:30.
Jer'Vaughn Johnson, a first-year transfer from San Diego State, made eight of nine field-goal attempts and scored a team-high 20 points for the Titans. Equally important, he collected a season-high 12 rebounds, taking advantage of the absence of Northridge's leading rebounder, Lenny Daniel, who missed the game for "failing to fulfill the academic requirements" of the Northridge program.
"Him not playing really helped out," Johnson said.
Fullerton reserve guard Devon Peltier made five three-point baskets and scored 19 points. He scored 14 in the first half to help the Titans finish with a 30-12 run and take a 45-33 lead into the break.
"We couldn't have won this game if [Peltier] wasn't shooting the way he was," Burton said. "He really lit them up."
Burton said he was concerned heading into the game because the Titans (16-14) blew a chance to be the third-seeded team in the tournament and earn a first-round bye. They lost their final two home games and fell into a three-way tie for third. Fullerton was then matched against the eighth-seeded Matadors, the defending tournament champion, who beat the Titans on their floor in January before losing a triple-overtime thriller last month at Northridge.
"We're inconsistently consistent in how we play," Burton said. "Tonight, I think it was pretty much all on one keel."
Burton said the turning point came with the Titans trailing, 21-15, with 11:18 remaining in the first half. Northridge forward Willie Galick, who had scored six points to that point, went to the bench with his second foul and Fullerton responded with a 9-2 run to take its first lead.
Galick was limited to seven points the rest of the game.
"The second foul always takes you out of your rhythm because then you sit on the bench for 10 minutes," Galick said.
Coupled with the absence of Daniel, a 6-7 forward who was averaging 11.7 points and 7.8 rebounds, the Matadors (11-21) were left thin in the middle. Northridge forward Vincent Cordell helped cover some of the losses, finishing with 12 points and 13 rebounds.
"It did have an impact," Matador Coach Bobby Braswell said of Daniel's absence.
Mark Hill scored 15 points to lead five players in double figures for Northridge.