ANAHEIM — Basketball can be a tale of two halves sometimes. Teams can lose their energy or simply have a tougher time executing the game plan. The Long Beach State men’s basketball team was on the wrong side of the tale Friday, giving up 48 second half points in a 75-67 loss to UC Irvine in the Big West conference tournament semifinal.
Long Beach had a strong first half, playing aggressive defense in its full court press while holding Irvine to just 27 points. In the second half, Irvine became more comfortable dealing with Long Beach’s defense and was able to put up 48 points on its way to the win.
“We knew they were just going to keep grinding and keep defending,” Long Beach head coach Dan Monson said. “They just wore us down because they were consistent. We just kind of broke and you can’t be a champion and do that.”
In the first half, the 49ers got off to a slow start once again, starting out 1-for-7 from the floor. Long Beach avenged the same type of slow start Thursday against Hawai’i and began to hit shots immediately after the early misses.
Senior forward KJ Byers returned for the 49ers early in the half, checking in and immediately hitting an and-one three pointer. Byers shot gave the 49ers much needed energy, leading to three pointers from senior guard Deishuan Booker and redshirt senior guard Bryan Alberts.
The 49ers and Anteaters began trading baskets from the midway point of the first half onwards, with the teams capitalizing on back-to-back and-one plays from senior forward Mason Riggins and Irvine’s Evan Leonard. With six minutes left in the half, Long Beach went to its full-court pressure defense and disrupted Irvine just like it did Hawai’i. The 49ers forced six turnovers and held the Anteaters to just 33 percent shooting. At halftime, Long Beach led 33-27 behind nine points from Booker and seven each for Riggins and Alberts.
The second half proved to be a different story for Long Beach on the defensive end. The 49ers’ press was not as effective, and Irvine was able to turn that into 36 points in the paint out of 48 total in the half.
“They’re a very difficult matchup for us and I thought they played incredibly well, especially in the first half” UC Irvine head coach Russell Turner said. “Our depth wore them down and I’m really pleased with the poise my team showed when we were down.”
With 7:42 remaining, Irvine took a 52-51 lead after a layup from redshirt junior guard Max Hazzard and used that momentum to go on an 11-0 run that lasted until the five minute mark. From that point on, Long Beach was unable to take a lead and its season came to an end.
Booker finished with a game-high 21 points and Alberts added 12 for the 49ers. Irvine was led by 17 points from redshirt senior guard Robert Cartwright and 14 from Hazzard.
After the game, Monson reflected on the team’s overall season and noted how resilient his group was after losing six straight conference games and responding with five straight at the end of the regular season, followed by the comeback win over Hawai’i in the Big West quarterfinals.
“They were able to just get off the mat time and time again and get better,” Monson said“They played their best basketball at the end of the year. That’s all you can ask, is for guys to compete and represent the school the right way and they’ve done that.”