After going claw-to-claw with the No. 14 Arizona Wildcats in the first half, the Long Beach State men’s basketball team’s mistakes piled up the rest of the way en route to a 104-67 loss Sunday night in Tucson.
Along with a pair of untimely questionable calls, the Beach (2-4) was outscored 66-34 in a chippy second half as they committed 22 turnovers sparked by 15 Arizona (6-0) steals.
2019 McDonald’s All-American freshman guard Nico Mannion made it look easy for the Wildcats, finishing with 22 points, three three-pointers, eight assists and two steals. Freshman forward Zeke Nnaji bullied his way against the Beach’s big men to 21 points and five rebounds.
Heading into the matchup against an opponent with an average margin of victory of 29, Long Beach came out of the opening buzzer looking like a team with a sense of urgency, executing its game plan especially well on the defensive end.
“Going to a place like Arizona, you just can’t give them 13 extra chances like we gave tonight,” head coach Dan Monson said after Friday’s victory over Fresno Pacific. “I think our guys are excited to go play another top-25 team on a quick turnaround and we’ll see what happens.”
Freshman guard Max De Geest keyed in on his coaching staff’s emphasis on cleaning the glass with four rebounds, 10 points, and three of the team’s six total threes off the bench. Sophomore guard Michael Carter III led the way early, scoring eight of Long Beach’s 14 points nine minutes into the game, before being limited to two points in the second half.
“In the second half, you saw our inexperience show,” Long Beach State assistant coach Senque Carey said. “Once we couldn’t make a basket and came out in a slump, they jumped out on us with a 20-6 run. It was hard for a young team like us to recover, but on the positive [side], we’re young, we’re getting better. Tonight wasn’t our best 40 minutes of play, but we had 20 hard minutes which we’ll pause it from there and build from it.”
- The Beach is far from playing their best basketball as not only are its Division I newcomers getting the necessary reps, but also the team’s three returners. With nine new players in the rotation, the returners are still working to figure out their roles as shown Sunday night by junior forward Jordan Roberts, who appears to be more comfortable with each game.
- “[Jordan Roberts has] got to get back to being a playmaker,” Carey said, “and stop focusing so much on his jump shot. Once he does that, great things are going to happen. He’s an unbelievable passer, good ball-handler, he just needs to get back to his strengths.”
- There were more important minutes for De Geest and senior guard Jordan Griffin, who are two of the team’s top-3 shooters. After missing action in the season opener at UCLA, De Geest has since played in every game, as his stroke continues to look more confident with each shot (7 for 16, 44%, 3FG). Griffin has shown the ability to impact the game right away upon checking in, both at Stanford and in Arizona (8 for 18, 44%, 3FG).
- The starting freshmen frontcourt looks promising. Freshman center Joshua Morgan continues to look like Long Beach’s starting center for years to come, averaging 6.8 points 4.4 rebounds and two blocks per game heading into tonight. Morgan connected on a beautiful alley-oop pass from the 3-point line to his frontcourt mate, freshman forward Romelle Mansel, against the Wildcats. As they continue to learn how to play without fouling on both ends, Long Beach fans should be excited about their length and athleticism moving forward.
The Beach will begin their return to the Wooden Legacy tournament bracket at the Anaheim Arena as they take on Providence Nov. 28 at 11 a.m.