With Titan Gym dressed with orange and blue balloons and streamers for a near-capacity crowd, Cal State Fullerton men’s basketball defeated the Cal Lutheran University Kingsmen 86-58 in its homecoming game.
The bench gave the Titans the jump start they needed in the first half, racking up 20 points in the first 20 minutes, their highest total of the season. Landon Kirkwood scored 4 points off the bench for the Titans during that stretch, providing crucial rebounds in traffic and slashing from the wing to lay the ball up in his limited minutes.
“We just brought energy. We didn’t have a lot of energy at the beginning,” Kirkwood said. “Once we got in, we did what we had to do and turned it up a little bit.”
Though he only finished with 7 points, the energy Kirkwood and the rest of the bench brought to the floor changed the game in ways the box score cannot cover.
The team also sunk all 10 of its free throws in the half, a new season-high.
Whenever CSUF converted a bucket that got the crowd off of their feet, Cal Lutheran would grind out the shot clock and move the ball for a three or a baseline floater, meaning that despite their strong bench production, the Titans led by merely 6 points after the first half.
Titans Head Coach Dedrique Taylor said the team wasn’t as “fluid” as he’d like them to be in the first half, an issue he let them know about at halftime in a spirited address to his roster.
“The message was we had to earn it. You can expect to do anything, but if you don’t come out and earn it, you’re not gonna get it. I thought this group responded the right way,” Taylor said.
The Titans stepped up their intensity on the court to start the second half. In the first two minutes of the period, Fullerton put up 7 points without an answer from the Kingsmen.
CSUF followed up with a steady stream of pick and rolls featuring Jamal Smith, Kyle Allman and Jackson Rowe that opened the floor up for easy baskets, allowing the Titans to start a run of 9 unanswered points, giving them a 19-point lead that would only grow larger.
“I thought, particularly in the second half, they definitely moved the ball and I thought we finished on the end of the ball movement,” Taylor said. “Those are the shots that we have to continue to seek out if we anticipate being able to shoot the ball from three.”
As the shots continued to pour in, the crowd cheered louder, the bench waved their towels more vigorously and CSUF President Mildred García shook a pair of pompoms to fire up those in attendance, a turn of events that Kirkwood credited for the team’s energy boost.
“The crowd had a big impact on us,” Kirkwood said. “It was just the energy that they brought along with the bench. It’s something that can’t be matched.”
Taylor hopes that crowds of that magnitude will continue to support the Titans at home games moving forward.
“I’m a huge believer in energy, and I believe what you give is what you get,” Taylor said. “It’s a reciprocal thing. The fans come in and they give us energy and we’ll give them energy back.”