ANAHEIM — Returning as the Big West Conference’s host school for the Wooden Legacy tournament for the first time since the 2014-15 season, the Long Beach State men’s basketball team (3-5) went 1-1 against two high-profile opponents it had never faced before.
The eight-program tournament is being held at the Anaheim Convention Center’s Anaheim Arena over Thanksgiving weekend.
Opening round: Big West prevails over Big East in 17-point comeback against Providence
Despite shooting just 2-for-10 from deep and 14-for-23 on free throws Thursday morning, Long Beach willed its way to a dramatic 66-65 victory over the Friars in the final three seconds of the game.
The Beach’s disruptive defense was able to string together stops while down against Providence (4-4), holding it under its average of 80.2 points and forcing it into nine turnovers more than its average of 12.
Sophomore guard Michael Carter III was huge in crunch time, hitting a right wing three to make it a 1-point game and ultimately nailing three game-winning free throws. He led the Beach with 23 points (2-3 3PT, 9-10 FT), three assists and two steals. Freshman center Joshua Morgan narrowly missed his first double-double with 12 points (5-8 FG, 2-2 FT), nine rebounds and three blocks.
“I’m thankful for all these guys in that locker room over there,” Long Beach State associate head coach Myke Scholl said. “They’ve been going through it the last couple of weeks and a big thing we said was, ‘Come out here and play like it’s Thanksgiving, guys.’ We’ve got a lot to be thankful for and gratitude was the theme. I’m very grateful for this win right here.”
It was a battle of pace as Providence’s half-court offense and shooting outclassed the Beach’s quick-tempo attack early. Each time the Friars slowed the game down with their offensive sets, it appeared to throw the Beach off rhythm, leading to turnovers and unnecessary fouls.
Long Beach trailed 37-28 at halftime while being plagued by missed free throws on the front end of 1-and-1 opportunities and converting on just one field goal in the final 5:30 of the first half.
Early into the second half, it appeared it would be the same old story as Long Beach came out sluggish and quickly took a timeout after Providence stretched out to its largest lead of the game 47-30.
With a new defensive intensity, Long Beach forced Providence to turn the ball over 12 times in the final 20 minutes. Although its 3-point and free throw shooting never picked up, the Beach went to its t̶u̶r̶k̶e̶y̶ ̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶g̶r̶a̶v̶y̶ bread-and-butter the rest of the way, scoring mostly in transition, off of forced turnovers and early in the shot clock at the rim.
“[Head coach Dan Monson] told them, ‘They’re a minute and 30 seconds into this half, and it’s not going to happen again,’” Scholl said. “‘We’re not having the same four minutes in the second half against Arizona. We’re going to change this right now, we’ll put that minute-thirty behind us,’ and we came out with a 13-2 run. That made the guys believe.”
With the victory, the Beach secured itself a top-4 finish and a second-round matchup against the winner of Wake Forest and the College of Charleston the next day.
Semifinals: The Beach falls short as the Demon Deacons make tournament-record free throws
On the second day of Wooden Legacy action, Long Beach answered the challenge offensively, but couldn’t keep Wake Forest (5-2) off of the glass or the foul line, losing 88-75.
Both teams faced each other for the first time in their programs’ history Friday morning. The Demon Deacons entered the game ranking third nationally in defensive rebounding (82.7% of opponents’ misses) and dominated the rebounding advantage against the Beach, 43-27.
Unable to clear the ball consistently, the Beach was forced to work for every point, being held to zero second-chance points and just eight fastbreak points for the game.
“As I told the team, the only thing that’s not fixable right now that I can’t seem to fix is the rebounding,” Monson said, “because everything else is very fixable and this team is going to get much better as they get experience.”
Despite struggling to score in the half-court early on into the season, Long Beach showed its growth with a season-high four players finishing in double-figures and assists made on 19 of its 26 field goals.
Carter III had it going once again for the Beach, finishing with a career-high nine assists along with 18 points. Morgan turned in another impressive performance with 10 points, seven rebounds and four blocks.
Junior guard Colin Slater fared well against Wake Forest’s 1,000+ point career scorer, senior guard Brandon Childress, holding him to 4 of 11 in the second half while finishing with 15 points and three steals.
Sophomore guard Chance Hunter was able to find his rhythm from the field early, but fouled out for the second game in a row, highlighted by a technical call for celebrating a made three.
“This team, I keep telling them,” Monson said, “they play with great emotion, which I love, but they’re too emotional. There’s a big difference. [Hunter] was in a great rhythm when he hit that three, and we’re up five and it was our biggest lead of the game. If he just goes back and gets a stop, it could’ve been a whole different game.”
Late in the first half, junior guard Drew Cobb injured his right ankle after landing on a Wake Forest foot while pulling down a rebound. Cobb has been the team’s best perimeter defender and would be a big loss if he were to miss significant time.
Long Beach was unable to recover from their 7-point halftime deficit as Wake Forest was able to score at the free throw line (20) more than they did anywhere else (15 FGM) in the second half, killing any and all momentum that swayed against them.
Long Beach State will face Penn for third place at the Anaheim Arena, Sunday at 10:30 a.m.