April 5, 2006
Fullerton, Calif. -
Greater expectations. And lesser luck in close games.
That's really about all that distinguished Cal State Fullerton's 2005-06 men's basketball season from its much more memorable 2004-05 predecessor that took the Titans three games into the post-season NIT.
Not since the 1983-84 and 1984-85 seasons had Fullerton posted back-to-back winning seasons. But recollections of the 2005-06 season and its 16-13 record will quickly fade in comparison to those of the previous season, when an unheralded and undersized unit caught the Big West Conference by surprise and rode a hot stretch drive to the school's first post-season appearance in 18 years and a final slate of 21-11.
The 2005-06 Titans won 16 games and lost 13. Only once in the past 18 seasons has a Titan team finished more than three games above .500. But that exception was only one year ago and fresh in fans' minds. And the 2005-06 Titans were the pre-season favorites to win the Big West Conference championship despite the protestation of Coach Bob Burton, who frequently and forcefully forecast the immense impact caused by the departure of seniors Ralphy Holmes, Yaphett King and Hardy Asprilla. The Titans finished sixth in the Big West at 5-9.
The 2005-06 Titans were 3-6 in games decided by 5 or fewer points and 1-3 in overtime. The 2004-05 Titans were 6-0 in games decided by one or two points and 3-0 in overtime.
It could be argued that the 2005-06 Titans were only three missed free throws from a 20-win season. One more point in regulation would have reversed the three overtime losses and junior point guard Bobby Brown wouldn't have been playing in overtime vs. Long Beach State to turn his ankle and be hobbled for subsequent back-to-back losses to UC Irvine, a team with which they had split the past three seasons.
Twice the Titans played eventual conference champion Pacific dead even for 35 minutes, only to be outscored in the final five minutes. Both of those games were on national television, giving the Titans their second and third national exposures in 11 months after none in the previous 15 years.
There were many highlights. The Titans ran their winning streaks to five in a row over both Cal State Northridge and UC Santa Barbara. The Matadors had won 6 of the previous 8 meetings and the Gauchos had beaten Fullerton 11 of the previous 12 meetings. The Titans swept home-and-home non-conference series with both UC Davis and South Dakota State. They had a rare winning road record at 7-6 (plus 2-2 on neutral floors). By winning the final four home games, they posted a winning record (7-5) in Titan Gym for the third season in a row.
Individually, the Titans had two dominant players. Bobby Brown made first-team all-conference and Jamaal Brown was on the second unit. They finished as the Nos. 2 and 4 scorers (17.5 ppg and 17.0 ppg), respectively, in the conference. Bobby was No. 2 in assists (4.55) and steals (1.55 spg) and third in made 3-pointers (2.48 pg) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.38). During the season he became the Titans' leading 3-point field goal maker (227) and moved up to No. 6 on the Titans' career scoring list with 1,415 points and up to No. 4 in assists with 378. He also was the only Big West player among 150 players nationally selected to the 10 NABC all-district teams, making the second unit for District 15. Jamaal was No. 2 in the Big West in rebounding (8.3 rpg) and field goal percentage (.512) and with 447 rebounds in only two seasons ranks No. 12 on the Titans' career list. He became only the third Titan to score 30 or more points in consecutive games and he finished with 16 career double-doubles, fourth best in school history. He also made the Big West All-Tournament team.
Sophomore guard Frank Robinson came on strong in the second half and was selected the conference's best sixth man, averaging 11.5 points and 5.1 rebounds. He led the Big West in steals at 1.66 per game and was third in 3-point field goal percentage. Junior forward Justin Burns statistically was the team's most improved player, finishing at 10.4 ppg and 6.7 rpg. Senior Jermaine Harper ranks seventh in CSF career 3-pointers despite playing only two seasons. Senior Vershan Cottrell more than doubled his junior year statistics and running mate John Clemmons overcame a broken foot to provide solid back-court relief. His assists-to-turnover ratio of 2.25 (63 assists, 28 turnovers) was better than the conference leader ((1.90) but he was a few assists shy of the qualifying mark.
At 48-41 in his three seasons to date, Coach Burton has a .539 winning percentage, second best of any Titans' head coach, trailing only Bobby Dye (109-78, .583) in the 1970s. Burton has more wins in his first three Titan seasons than any of his Div. I predecessors -- Dye (44), George McQuarn (43), John Sneed (43), Bob Hawking (26) and Donny Daniels (20).
Team-voted post-season trohies went to Bobby Brown (MVP), Harper (best defender), Burns (most improved) and Cottrell (Andrew Awad Toughness Award).