49ers struggled to meet expectations

An early exit from Big West Tournament play encapsulated all the weaknesses and flaws in the Long Beach State basketball team. Now five days after its season has ended, here is the final look back on an expectation-filled season that left many disappointed.

There was a lot of discussion before the start of the season regarding head coach Dan Monson’s decision to schedule some of the toughest opponents in the country – something he said would prepare his team for what really mattered: conference play.

For the most part, Monson’s strategy was paying off. Sure, the 49ers had their share of ugly losses against some of the top programs in the country – 66-49 at St. Johns, 85-67 at Syracuse, 63-48 at Louisville.

LBSU returned home in early January and looked like a completely new team, as if there was a massive sense of relief since the worst was over. The 49ers went on to win seven of their next eight after a six-game December losing streak. Finally, they were going to go on the roll that would carry them through Big West Tournament and into the NCAAs.

Not many teams have the luxury of relying on an all-conference guard to carry them on a nightly basis. Monson built his team specifically around senior point guard Mike Caffey, a Big West Player of the Year candidate, and David Samuels, a perimeter big turned low post scoring threat.

For the first half of conference play, Caffey and Samuels’ efforts were enough to cruise by Big West opponents. Samuels averaged nearly a double-double in league play, while Caffey was well on his way to solidifying his Player of the Year status.

The 49ers’ fatal flaw, what ultimately cost them against Hawaii in the Big West Tournament, was the lack of a third scorer. Monson could always rely on Caffey and Samuels to score and create offense, but LBSU just did not have that last scoring threat that could have put them over the top.

For a while it looked like sophomore forward Travis Hammonds was going to be the guy. Hammonds led the team by scoring in two of the last three regular season games, but managed only four points in the season-ending loss against Hawaii.

Senior guard Tyler Lamb ideally would have been the guy to take on the role after averaging 15.4 points per game in 2013-14. But he struggled all season with his shooting and never quite established a rhythm.

Losing senior guard A.J. Spencer to a torn ACL before the season was a major blow, but one that was supposed to be mitigated with the depth Monson had assembled.

The 49ers can begin looking forward to next season, where they will have a brand new lineup. Caffey, Samuels, Lamb, guard McKay LaSalle and forward Eric McKnight are gone after making a combined 135 starts.

Fortunately for LBSU, the backcourt will be in good shape with transfers Nick Faust and Roschon Prince being eligible to play.

The 49ers will also get Spencer back after he redshirted this year. Freshman point guard Justin Bibbins has shown what he’s capable of, and an increase in minutes after a year of sitting and learning from Caffey will serve him well.

Hammonds and sophomore guard Branford Jones will also be back, along with incoming freshman guard Noah Blackwell. Like this year, there will be talent on next year’s squad. The challenge will be to translate that talent to on-court success.

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