Long Beach State Men’s Basketball Takes Top Spot in Big West – The562.org
Tuesday night at Walter Pyramid was like living in a Long Beach State men’s basketball time capsule buried a decade ago when the program was monitoring winning streaks, sitting atop the Big West Conference and packing the gymnasium for each home game.
The Beach used an aggressive second-half run to beat visiting Cal State Fullerton 71-61 in front of the biggest crowd they’ve had in years. It’s the ninth straight win for LBSU (13-9, 8-1) and puts the Beach alone in first place in the Big West. The winning streak is their longest since taking over the conference and making the NCAA Tournament in 2012.
“It was a championship-caliber game for the Big West,” LBSU coach Dan Monson said. “It was a dogfight. I don’t think either team felt like they played particularly well, but I think both teams played really hard.
“It was electric for sure,” LBSU senior Jordan Roberts said of the atmosphere. “It kind of reminded me of the Homecoming game that we’ve missed for the past two seasons. Just to see everyone come out and support us, especially for the new guys to see, they can continue that tradition here.
Senior guard Colin Slater scored a game-high 19 points for LBSU while Jadon Jones had 15 points and a pair of key steals. Roberts had 13 points, Joel Murray overcame a poor shooting night to score 12 points and Aboubacar Traore had a team-high nine rebounds.
Cal State Fullerton (14-7, 7-2) had 15 points each from guards Jalen Harris and Tray Maddox Jr., but Big West leading scorer EJ Anosike was limited to just eight points and six rebounds while facing mistakes.
The turning point of the game came early in the second half when LBSU went on a 12-0 run by being aggressive at both ends of the field.
“Over the last few games we’ve always played well defensively in the second half and stepped up…I’m happy (the crowd was) here to give us that extra push,” Slater said. “Obviously having our fans here helps a lot. We really want to play hard and do things that they would like to see.
Slater played a key role on the offensive side during the run, and his three 3-pointers came in the second half. The last was about five feet behind the arc to put LBSU up 52-47 with six minutes left.
“I don’t look at distance, I just measure how the defender keeps,” Slater said. “If they don’t keep me close, it’s because they think I’m out of goal range. But when I feel comfortable, I let it go.
LBSU got nine straight defensive saves on the run, then stayed aggressive in transition to get easy buckets and free throws. Jones was key in turning the tide when Monson put his team in the press defensively. The first time the beach went to the press, Jones got a steal.
“He’s got a mind and he’s wearing these (black Nike Air Force 1 shoes) and that means he’s going to get gritty, he doesn’t care about looking good and these (shoes) can get dirty,” Slater told About Jones. “Every time I see him take them out, I know what day it’s going to be.”
“Jones believes in himself, so I feel like he brings that energy to the pitch every time, no matter how it goes for him,” Roberts added. “He could shoot one out of ten, he’s always going to bring that energy to the defensive side, get deflections, get fired up and we feed off of that.”
Jones also made a pair of massive 3-pointers in the second half to keep LBSU ahead. Both came from passes out of the paint.
“Our pace and approach to people in the second half really made the difference,” Monson said. “We just kept attacking. And we defended them better than them in the second half… (The press) made them cautious. All of a sudden they were a different team against this press. They didn’t attack him until we had nine straight saves. This triggered our attack. We have to be a team that creates attack from our defense.
The beach also solidified the low game and gave up just one offensive rebound in the second half after giving up 12 in the first half.
It was a possession game or two in the final minutes, but Fullerton couldn’t take advantage of the free throw line. The Titans are the best free-throw shooting team in the Big West, but missed three straight fronts of 1-and-1 attempts shooting past a noisy student section that was nearly full.
“It was a great environment,” Monson said. “I think the crowd really helped us. It brought back fond memories of this toppling building. People don’t just show up, you have to earn it. This is a very competitive market for things to do. I feel like these guys are winning over these people.
Roberts put an exclamation mark on the proceedings with an acrobatic And-1 reverse layup with around 1:30 to play.
“Jordan Roberts spent five years in this program to play a game like today,” Monson added. “We still have a long way to go in the (Big West) and the tournament is coming up, but it’s the start of something cool for our guys.”
The intense tone of the game was set early on as both defenses created the offense. A pair of Traore blocks helped the range, but the Titans turned a few steals into easy buckets and led 10-9.
Murray and Joe Hampton scored on back-to-back possessions to give LBSU a 14-11 lead just after the 12-minute timeout. Harris’ 3-pointer tied the game before Romelle Mansel came off the bench to trigger the range. He had an And-1 backhand and a big block in defense on back-to-back possessions.
Harris and Maddox Jr. sparked a 7-0 run that used the Titans’ 11-point lead. However, Murray and Jones hit back-to-back runs to take the lead.
Less than a minute from halftime, Slater dropped the ball and Jones collected it. He handed it back to Slater in transition, and the elder found Roberts for an easy layup. CSUF led 33-28 at halftime.
Fullerton led 38-29 as LBSU continued its 12-0 run.
It was also Monson’s 400th career victory that encompasses his 25 years at Gonzaga, Minnesota and LBSU. He has won 230 games at The Beach since joining in 2007.
“I’m grateful,” Monson said. “You don’t get 400 wins unless people are with you through thick and thin. I am not naive. I know a month ago people were calling my president and my DA to find out what was going on with the men’s basketball program. They didn’t waver, and I felt that support in other places too.
LBSU has a quick turnaround and will fly to second-place Hawaii for a game on Thursday.
“It makes the Hawaii game even more important,” Monson said. “It’s funny. We wouldn’t want it any other way. To have meaningful games in February is pretty cool.
“We have to keep doing what we’re doing right now,” Roberts said. “It’s next time.”
PHOTOS: Long Beach State vs. Cal State Fullerton, Men’s Basketball