The Titans didn’t exactly struggle in the first half of their homecoming win over the Cal Lutheran University Kingsmen, but they weren’t playing anywhere near as well as expected. Coming out of halftime, the team was still looking for some semblance of life while leading by just 6 points in a game they were heavily favored to win.
Less than two minutes into the second half, the Titans found the momentum they were searching for when Jackson Rowe hit a 3-pointer that opened the floodgates and ended the team’s scoring drought. Rowe’s three kicked off a 7-0 scoring run and 46-24 second half in which the Titans made three of their eight 3-pointers (37.5 percent).
Eight shots is an exceedingly small sample size, and 37.5 percent is far better than the third-worst in the Big West (26.1 percent.) The Titans have shot behind the arc this season, but Titans Head Coach Dedrique Taylor felt the team found a sustainable strategy to improve their shooting moving forward.
“I think it was the ball movement,” Taylor said. “I thought the ball moved from side to side and then it touched the paint and then it got kicked out for an open shot. Those are the shots that we can make. Those are the shots that we have to continue to seek out if we anticipate being able to shoot the ball from the three.”
Assists fueling ball movement is hardly a new idea in basketball, but it’s not a strategy the Titans have successfully implemented early on in their season. The Titans have only averaged 12.3 assists per game, which ranks sixth of the nine teams in the Big West.
Whether or not the Titans passing more can actually improve their 3-point shooting remains to be seen, but guard Kyle Allman saw the direct benefit of what improvement in the team’s — and his own — success from long range can have for his game, scoring a team-high 22 points against Cal Lutheran.
Allman went 2-5 from behind the arc against the Kingsmen, a 40-percent clip he said unlocks the rest of his game.
“It opens up the drive which is what I want to do first. It allows them not to play me honestly, so I just go from there,” Allman said.
The Titans guard said he’d been working on his jumper “nonstop” leading up to the Titans’ win over Cal Lutheran, which made him feel his long range success was sustainable.
“It’s just paying off,” Allman said.
Digging for depth
Thirteen members of the Titans’ 16-man roster have played in at least four of the team’s seven games so far, a deeper-than-normal rotation which Taylor said has been very much intentional.
“I think it’s a great option and opportunity for our ball club to see what guys can do on the floor. If you’re out there, we want to know what it is that we can count on,” Taylor said. “It helps our team continue to move in the direction that we need to go.”
Taylor hopes that prior experience will pay off in conference play if the Titans have an unexpected injury or a player gets into foul trouble, and freshman guard Landon Kirkwood said that he and the rest of the CSUF reserves have a simple assignment for when they enter the game: To bring energy.
“I feel like I play with confidence in myself everytime I get on the court. With the energy that the bench and I bring, that’s just what happens. It’s not just me, it’s the whole team. We’ll all have confidence if we all have energy,” Kirkwood said.
Taylor said that seeing the liveliness his bench can bring gives him more confidence in his reserves, but he also said that how he feels doesn’t matter.
“My confidence is not important. Their confidence is the most important part of it,” Taylor said. “When we get a chance to get some minutes like this and one can produce, I think it helps them and it fuels their ability to have a different level of confidence and comfort when they get out on the floor.”
The Titans’ bench has also aided the team at times without setting foot on the floor by vigorously waving towels and cheering for their own teammates while screaming to distract opposing shooters.
“I think it just gives you a different level of confidence when you hit a shot and you hear the bench,” Allman said. “I think it just fuels you.”
Taylor said that the Titans’ bench is bringing so much that it somewhat paradoxically makes his job harder.
“They put pressure on me to manage minutes,” Taylor said. “It’s a great problem to have. As long as we continue to be as productive as this group was off the bench, I like our chances.”
Hoping for home-court advantage
The screaming from the Titans’ bench wasn’t the only loud noise during the team’s homecoming win over the Kingsmen. Titan Gym was filled to the brim with the team’s most raucous crowd of the season, a turnout they hope will continue.
“The crowd had a big impact on us. It was just the energy that they brought along with the bench, it’s something that can’t be matched,” Kirkwood said.
With 2,085 fans present, it was the most attended of any of the Titans’ home games that were not a part of an all-day tournament. It was also a bigger turnout than all but one of the Titans’ home games last season.
Taylor said the team was looking to take advantage of the volume of fans in attendance not only to fuel them against the Kingsmen, but to show them it was worth continuing to come and give the Titans a home-court advantage they haven’t had in recent years.
“I’m a huge believer in energy, and I believe what you give is what you get, and it’s a reciprocal thing. The fans come in and they give us energy and we’ll give them energy back and vice versa,” Taylor said. “I think if you can create the type of atmosphere that we had tonight consistently in conference play, wow, I think great things are on the horizon for this ball club.”