The Fullerton College Hornets basketball team held off Chaffey College in the first round of the Fullerton College Classic on Nov. 8, winning 52-48 and improving their record to 4-1.
Fullerton struggled to handle the ball and find the basket to begin the first half, giving Chaffey a boost in confidence and total control of the ball early on in the game.
However, a layup deep in the heart of the paint by Akil Reese sparked a confidence shift for Fullerton, who began to play aggressive defense and pounded the court to bridge the scoring gap.
Defense was the name of Fullerton’s game, who forced turnovers and kept themselves within a small deficit after being down early.
“I thought we defended pretty well for forty minutes,” said Fullerton head coach Perry Webster. “I was proud of the defensive effort.”
Whenever Fullerton showed defensive holes, though, Chaffey squirmed through them and capitalized where they could.
Chaffey took a 16-11 lead close to the end of the first half, forcing Webster to call a timeout and gather his team.
Vaj Rice subbed in for Fullerton and immediately stormed through Chaffey’s defense, juking and swimming in the paint for a layup to bring the team within one point.
Down two points with 4:07 left in the first half, Fullerton kept their defensive hold up but faltered when Chaffey’s Bosten Van Der Veer skittered through their defense for a two-point shot and a free throw.
Fullerton rebounded and charged with a fastbreak before feeding the ball to difference maker Jason Richardson who stormed the basket, again putting Fullerton within one point.
Their defense held, granting them the ball back which fell into Ronne Readus’s hands, who banked a layup to give Fullerton their first lead of the game.
With less than a second to play, Fullerton fed the ball to Khalil Stevenson, who quick released the ball for a buzzer beating basket, giving Fullerton a 25-20 lead to close out the first half.
The fight shown from Fullerton is what many expected to see after a successful season last year, but Webster prefers this team to carve its own identity.
“There should be no expectations. This is a new team that needs to find its identity. If they think that they can just walk in and win games then they got it wrong. They need to earn the respect of the community and of the school and the fans and they haven’t done that yet,” said Webster.
The second half was hotly contested, the two teams battling back and forth, Fullerton taking a lead, then Chaffey tying it, on and on the momentums switched until Chaffey took a four point lead with three minutes left in the game.
Chaffey’s lead did not endure.
An and-one score from Richardson, a whiffed air ball from Chaffey, and another basket from Richardson put Fullerton up 47-45 with a minute and a half left to play in the game.
Richardson shined again with a basket to give Fullerton a four point lead with 30 seconds left, effectively driving the dagger into Chaffey’s heart and advancing Fullerton to the next round of the tournament.
Fullerton won 52-48.
Though Fullerton took the win, they earned it with sloppy offensive play and a slew of turnovers.
“A lot to do, a lot to work on offensively. Missed a ton of free throws, ton of lackadaisical plays, we gotta clean a lot of things up or we’re gonna start losing a lot of games. It’s time to get serious,” Webster said of the team’s performance.
Although the team made mistakes, their will to win endured.
“At the end of the game you just gotta suck up all the pain, fight through it, find a way to win. My teammates keep fighting, I love the team, we don’t quit,” Richardson said. “We came back from 15 the last tournament, so we got a group of fighters. We’ll be alright.”
Asked how he felt about the team’s performance, Webster said “Not well. We got to get a lot better.”
The tournament continues through Saturday, Nov. 11.