Prior to tip-off Wednesday night at USC, the Long Beach State men’s basketball team received good news: USC’s star freshman Kevin Porter Jr. would sit out due to a nagging quad injury.
Moments later, it was announced by LBSU play-by-play radio announcer Jason Schwartz that Long Beach starting point guard Deishuan Booker was nowhere to be found in warm-ups and was not on the team’s bench for undisclosed reasons. Without Booker, it was a struggle for Long Beach (2-6) to drive into the paint and handle pressure at the guard position.
In the first half, both teams dealt with slow starts and turnover problems. Led by sophomore Edon Maxhuni running the point guard position, the 49ers went back and forth with the Trojans in a low scoring affair.
“We just committed to defending and keeping them in front and rebounding the ball, I think that’s what made the difference,” associate head coach Myke Scholl said on 22 West Radio.
Long Beach was reliant on a collective effort from its entire roster, as 12 players saw the floor. With less than three minutes before halftime, a layup from sophomore guard Jordan Roberts cut the USC lead down to two points. USC responded with a 6-0 run to end the half, leading 36-28. Roberts led the Beach in scoring with nine points and five rebounds at the break.
To begin the second half, the Trojans continued to capitalize on their momentum, taking a 44-32 lead within the first few minutes. Behind offensive contributions from redshirt junior guard Ron Freeman and redshirt senior guard Bryan Alberts, the 49ers would not give up. A powerful tomahawk dunk by Freeman sparked some fire into the team.
Long Beach exploded for a 10-0 run with under 11 minutes to play and eventually cut the USC lead down to three points. The 49ers continued to battle with the Trojans through the second half, but could not stop junior forward Nick Rakocevic down the stretch who finished with 19 points and 13 rebounds.
“Extremely proud of this team defensively, they hung together when we got down and really gritted it out,” Scholl said on 22 West Radio. “We got the shots that we wanted, our guys executed well but we just got a little unlucky there at the end.”
Alberts and Roberts led Long Beach with 13 points each. Long Beach held USC to 42.2 percent shooting but struggled themselves, shooting 35.7 percent in the loss.
Next up for Long Beach is a 7 p.m. matchup Saturday at the University of San Diego.