Titans have a chance to topple a Duke giant – Press Enterprise

FULLERTON – Attendees at the loud, lively NCAA bracket watch party may have sensed something was going on Sunday afternoon. Down in the West region, Duke was seeded No. 2 with his 28-6 record and his No. 1 in nation history, ending Mike Krzyzewski’s coaching career.

And then, on line #15 directly below: Cal State Fullerton.

The roar of those gathered—players, coaches, friends, family, athletic department officials, and fans—was real, loud, and heartfelt. No “be careful what you wish for” stupidity would be tolerated.

So let the tales of killing giants begin.

For the first time in a year that doesn’t end in an 8, Fullerton has reached the NCAA tournament after surviving Long Beach State’s last possession in Saturday’s Big West championship game. First appearance was in 1978 – or a year before Magic Johnson and Larry Bird changed the tournament – and the team that no one paid attention to was just a steal in the lane (or, if you prefer, an unannounced foul) away from reaching the tournament’s incredible achievement of the last four.

The next two appearances, in 2008 and 2018, against Wisconsin and Purdue respectively, went in the Valorous Effort category.

This time, not only can the Titans ruin brackets by the thousands, they can make history by spoiling this storyline. Krzyzewski’s 42nd season at Duke was a long winning streak, and before knowing what seasons would be set, it was certain that Coach K and his team would be on prime time as much as possible.

Did. Friday’s game from Greenville, SC begins at 7:10 p.m. Eastern on CBS’ main network with Jim Nantz on the phone. fullerton could be mentioned a few times throughout the show.

But could you imagine that?

The words “Cal State Who” were heard during Sunday’s party at a downtown Fullerton restaurant. Those with long memories will remember it as a nod to the 1978 Titans who shocked New Mexico No. 4 and University of San Francisco No. 11 – madness before March Madness™ – and the ball and the had a chance of winning the regional finals against Arkansas, No. 7 in the last AP poll of the regular season this year.

That’s quite a significant near miss. That would put that to shame.

But there’s always a risk that the 2022 Big West champions will see that blue DUKE on the front of the jerseys and Krzyzewski on the sidelines and get distracted from the task at hand.

“You always take that risk,” said head coach Dedrique Taylor. “But I think these guys have so much more access (to information) that I don’t know if the four letters on their shirt are as big as they were five or ten years ago. There will still be that element, but I don’t think it will be as big or as gaudy.”

Senior guard Jalen Harris, the conference’s sixth man of the year, noted that all of this information — “all the hype surrounding Coach K and Duke this season,” as he put it — can be distracting.

The trick: “Get everyone focused and realizing we can win the game. We’re going to go out there to compete. We’re not here to make friends or be buddies with anyone. We want to go out there and win as much as they do. Once we get in there with that attitude, I have a feeling everything will work out for us.”

There is one more factor. For the Bluebloods of the game, preparing for the NCAA tournament is old hat, baked into the routine of the season. You get on a plane, fly to the tournament site, bring your homework, practice and play. It is normal.

Unless you’re one of the game’s bluebloods, this is a sudden change in routine. And if you’ve never experienced it before, it’s one more thing to deal with.

“Personally, I have (no) idea, but I’m looking forward to the journey,” senior Damari Milstead said. “You know, Coach Taylor has been here before so we’re going to lean on him to guide us.”

Only one player on the Fullerton roster has played in the NCAA tournament: Grad transfer EJ Anosike, who appeared in a game for Tennessee last spring.

“Everyone’s excited, and they should be,” said Conference Tournament MVP Anosike. You worked hard and the hard work paid off, you know?

“We received a general offer (in Tennessee). But this one feels so much sweeter because we really worked on it. We had to go out there and get three wins to give us a chance/… To see these guys, young guys, sophomores, they’ve got years ahead of them, and getting a ring for a championship so early, it shows them what the best looks like. Now the standard is, you have to raise it and continue to hold yourself to high standards if you want to get another.”


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