The stage was set for success at Titan Gym on Saturday night as the CSUF men’s basketball sought a much-needed win against Hawaii on senior night. However, the Titans would ultimately fall to the Rainbow Warriors 71-59, giving Hawaii the regular season sweep against the Titans.
Swirls of fans wearing orange and navy blue moved about as their voices fought over airspace with pregame songs and the CSUF band who joined in the cacophony of mixing sounds.
Seniors Kyle Allman Jr., Khalil Ahmad, Dominik Heinzl, and Sammy Jones were honored before the game with framed jerseys and pictures with their families. The crowd gave them an electric welcoming as the Titans took the court for warm-ups.
Sporting white, the Titans stormed into the first several minutes of the opening half invigorated by an early dunk from Ahmad, which eventually rolled into a 7-0 run for Fullerton and a burned timeout for a scoreless Hawaii just under three minutes into the game.
Hawaii forward Jack Purchase opened the scoring for the visitors with a 3-pointer that helped Hawaii gain momentum down the stretch of the first half, while the Titans remained scoreless for nearly eight minutes after Purchase’s shot from behind the arc.
Tied at seven points apiece, the battle between the Titans and the Rainbow Warriors began to take shape, as both teams traded points back and forth over a 10-minute span.
Fullerton would eventually eclipse the points exchange on Allman Jr.’s 3-point jumper, giving the Titans a 4-point lead. Another Allman Jr. bucket from behind the arc extended the Titans’ lead to nine with under four minutes to go, giving the largest lead of the night to the men dressed in white.
As the first half drew to a close, Hawaii once again clawed their way back into contention against Fullerton, sealing the closing seconds of the period with two successful 3-point attempts to burn the Titans’ short-lived lead to one inside Titan Gym.
Instead of reigning in the special evening with a complete performance in the following half, the Titans shared an abysmal rest of the night on the court with their eager home fans, who likely want to forget the game rather than remember it.
Allman Jr., who came into the night ranked fourth in points per game (18.1) in Big West play, joined the company of two other starters who scored one point or less in the entirety of the second half.
While Heinzl’s scoreless second half endeavor was a more understandable measure, considering he spent all of four minutes on the court in the fourth quarter, Allman Jr. and guard Austen Awosika both played over 15 minutes and managed to collectively create one point from an Awosika free throw to pull the Titans’ deficit to eight points with just over 1:30 left in play.
CSUF head coach Dedrique Taylor took the blame for the Titans’ underwhelming performance on their special night.
“I got to be a better coach. I got to find a way to motivate my guys at this time of year on such a special night, I’ve got to find a way to be more responsible for our energy and competitive spirit,” Taylor said.
With the Titans’ home loss to Hawaii on Saturday solidifying their position as the third best team in the Big West Conference, CSUF will have a chance to rectify a string of recent losses, including a 66-59 loss against UC Davis earlier in the season. The Titans’ quarterfinal matchup of the Big West Tournament against the Aggies will be played Thursday, March 14 at 2:30 p.m.