A three-game losing streak threatens to derail the Long Beach State men’s basketball team’s impressive efforts in league play.
After losing to UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara and Cal Poly, the 49ers are in third place in the Big West Conference with UCSB and Hawaii right on its heels.
Why is LBSU struggling? There have been warning signs of potential trouble since even before the losing started. In wins against Cal State Fullerton and Hawaii, the 49ers trailed by double digits in the first half.
They managed to overcome Hawaii quite easily, blowing out the Rainbow Warriors 65-50 on Jan. 31 inside the Walter Pyramid. It took overtime and an unbelievable individual effort by senior point guard Mike Caffey to squeak by Fullerton. The win was well deserved, but relying on one player to bail a team out on a consistent basis is not going to work.
The slow starts finally caught up to the 49ers, and the result has been a losing streak.
They trailed by as many as 14 in the first half against Irvine, and they were lucky to be down by only seven at the break. At UCSB on Feb. 12, the 49ers were down 9-2 after just four minutes; in their matchup with the Mustangs on Feb. 14, they were down by 14.
All the early deficits force the 49ers to exert more energy on defense, which subsequently hurts their offense. They are constantly playing catch-up against quality opponents, and it has bit them hard in recent games.
LBSU can hang its hat on its ability to come back late in games. In all three losses, the 49ers have been within one score late in the second half. They have not been able to get over the hump, and trying to make a comeback on the road certainly does not help matters.
Rebounding has been a constant struggle for this team as well. LBSU is the second worst rebounding team in the Big West, just ahead of UC Davis at 33.8 a game. The 49ers were outrebounded in all three losses — their worst effort coming against Cal Poly when the Mustangs outrebounded LBSU 40-23.
The two players who have consistently performed to their abilities are Caffey and senior forward David Samuels.
Caffey is a Big West Player of the Year candidate. He is having his best all-around season, both on offense and defense. He has embraced his role as the leader, and has proven himself time and again.
Samuels has dramatically picked up his game since league started. He has become a consistent offensive threat while playing excellent post defense. Beyond Samuels and Caffey, there just hasn’t been a reliable third player on offense.
Senior guard Tyler Lamb and sophomore guard Branford Jones have each had stretches of hot shooting, and they are always reliable and willing defenders. Sophomore guard Travis Hammonds has been the 49ers’ best sixth man, bringing athleticism and three-point shooting off the bench.
Senior guard McKay LaSalle has been a major bright spot the last few games, scoring a career high 18 points in the loss at UCSB. But these are not performances that the 49ers can depend on. The lack of a consistent third scoring threat has been an issue for most of the season for LBSU
As a team, the 49ers are shooting just 42 percent. However, their 35 percent three-point shooting is solid, and it is an indication that they are capable of playing with anybody in the Big West.
The 49ers have the pieces to win the Big West Tournament, and even to pull off an upset in the NCAA Tournament. Their position in the standings is still solid, but they are not going to accomplish anything if this trend continues into March.