men's basketball recap 03/19

Damari Milstead shooting a jumper over U.C. Riverside defender in Titan Gym on March 3. (Navtej Hundal / Daily Titan).

In their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2018, Cal State Fullerton men's basketball exits the first round of March Madness on Friday after they lost to Duke, 78-61.

The loss marks the Titans' third straight first-round elimination, second under head coach Dedrique Taylor. The prior exits came 2018 and 2008, following double-digit losses to Purdue University and University of Wisconsin-Madison, respectively.

CSUF could not establish a rhythm offensively against Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski's defensive sets, forcing the Titans to take rushed or contested shots all night long.

In a post-game interview, Taylor expressed his feelings towards the team's shot selection on a poor shooting performance.

"The shots that we're getting are good shots, they just weren't falling,'" Taylor said. 

He added that Duke's size and athleticism made shots more difficult than the team was used to, complimenting the physicality of his opponents.

"I just can't say how proud I am of this group. Obviously coming into this game, competing against Duke was a complete honor and privilege, but compete is exactly what our guys did," Taylor said about his team following the loss. "They came out and played extremely hard and didn't quit. They have absolutely nothing to hang their heads about."

Big West tournament MVP E.J. Anosike had a particularly quiet night in Greenville, South Carolina, finishing with a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds on 4-9 shooting. Eight of those points came in the second half attempting to stop the bleeding in a hard-fought but ultimately losing effort.

Milstead finished his senior season with a solid performance, ending the night with 12 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals while shooting 56% on 9 shot attempts.

Hustle and heart paid off for the Titans defensively, picking Duke's pockets eight times while finishing +5 in turnover margin. However, shooting just 37.5% from the floor and having just one block compared to 10 on the side of the No. 2 seed in the West region was not enough to advance to the second round.

Forward Paolo Banchero had an electric NCAA tournament debut for the Blue Devils, as he scored 12 points in the opening half while grabbing seven boards. The ACC Freshman of the Year and projected NBA lottery pick finished the night with 17 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and two blocks.

Duke's interior defense showed their size early, anchored by center Mark Williams. The 7-foot-1 center and Atlantic Coast Conference Defensive player of the year had four of his team-high five blocks in the first half, finishing just one shy of 100 blocks in his college career as a sophomore.

Williams finished with 15 points and seven rebounds to pair with his stellar defensive performance.

All five starters for the Blue Devils finished in double-digit scoring, the team shot 51.7% on the night and 40.9% from beyond the arc.

The Titans started the game cold, as they allowed the Blue Devils to open the game on a 22-9 run. 

Despite early shooting struggles, gritty defense and hustle on the offensive kept the Titans alive. Tough perimeter defense led by guard Damari Milstead translated to five Titan steals at the half, cutting down Duke's lead and only being down by 10, 37-27, heading into halftime. 

The second half started similarly to the first, with Duke aggressively coming out on a 15-6 run, continuing to widdle away any sight of a comeback from the Titans.

Ultimately, Taylor congratulated Krzyzewski and his team, expecting a deep run from them as the tournament plays out while commending the effort from his guys against the iconic blue blood school.

Krzyzewski said in a post-game interview the importance of playing CSUF, emphasizing the defensive effort put forth against his team.

"We beat a good team. Dedrique's team is an old veteran team, champions, and known for their defense. They really played hard defensively against us,” Krzyzewski said.

Losing to a high seed in Duke, regarded as a legitimate contender for another NCAA championship under a legendary head coach's final season, is how the Titans' 2021-22 season will be remembered.

Asst. Sports Editor F20 & S21, Asst. Opinion Editor F21 & S22; Managing Editor F22 & S23

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