Capping off a tough two-game NorCal road swing, Long Beach State men’s basketball took its first West Coast Conference loss against No. 18 Saint Mary’s, 81-63 Thursday.
After 20 minutes of pinpoint execution by both teams, the Gaels (2-1) looked every bit the part of the Beach’s first ranked opponent of the season, opening the second half with four-straight threes on a 12-2 scoring run. SMC shot 31 of 55 from the field (56%), 12 of 20 on 3-pointers (60%), and held the rebound advantage 33-25.
The box score was littered with career-highs from SMC redshirt junior guard Tommy Kuhse, who had 20 points, four 3-pointers and eight assists off the bench. Sophomore center Matthias Tass dominated Long Beach (1-3) in the paint, finishing with a career-high 22 points and five rebounds.
With a team emphasis on defense, freshman forward Romelle Mansel got the starting nod, delivering in his opening lineup debut with eight points, two steals and a block. Freshman center Joshua Morgan filled the five spot in the young backcourt, and finished with four points, five rebounds and two blocks.
“We wanted to start the game with a little more energy, a little more size, so we decided to go with them,” Long Beach associate head coach Myke Scholl said. “You look up and you basically got all new guys in the [starting] lineup. Two freshmen, two sophomores and a junior, and none of which were here last year, so it’s a growing process obviously and we thought those guys started off great.”
St. Mary’s held a 41-31 lead after the first half, capitalizing on both ends despite First Team All-WCC senior guard Jordan Ford only playing 10 minutes due to foul trouble. Ford came into Thursday night averaging 24 points while playing the entirety of the Gaels’ first two games.
Heading into the McKeon Pavilion for the first time since 1997, the Beach connected on its goal of anchoring down on St. Mary’s usual leaders, but were bested by a true team effort from the rest of the Gaels.
“Our guys followed the [scouting report],” Scholl said. “We put a lot of foul pressure on Ford and [Malik] Fitts in that first half and got them both out of there. We got the guys we wanted taking the shots, and Tommy Kuhse just came in and controlled the game in that middle ball screen.”
St. Mary’s took complete control offensively against Long Beach’s zone down the stretch. Although a 13-2 run by the Beach prompted SMC head coach Randy Bennett to bring his starters back out, steady shooting and patience from the Gaels quickly remedied the late run.
The Beach travel home to the Walter Pyramid and will have eight days of rest before taking on Fresno Pacific Nov. 22 at 7 p.m.