Los Angeles — The Long Beach State men’s basketball team battled the University of Southern California with a well-rounded effort as four players finished in double-figures, but fell short at the Galen Center Sunday, 87-76.
USC (9-2) owned the advantage on the interior with 42 points in the paint. Two-time former California “Mr. Basketball” freshman forward Onyeka Okongwu spearheaded the Trojans’ victory, single-handedly outscoring the Beach for stretches, finishing with 28 points, 12 rebounds and three steals.
“[Okongwu is] a very good finisher around the rim,” Long Beach State head coach Dan Monson said, “and we didn’t locate him when the ball was loose. We weren’t physical enough with him. If you don’t get a body on him and it’s a 50-50 ball, he’s going to make it an 80-20 ball.”
Okongwu’s frontcourt minutes were spelled by none other than 2019 McDonald’s All-American freshman forward Isaiah Mobley, who added 11 points, nine rebounds and two blocks in high-flying fashion off the USC’s bench.
Heading into their fourth tough Pac-12 road game of the season, Long Beach drew up a specialized gameplan to counter USC’s star personnel, opting for zone defense more often than usual.
“I didn’t fault my guys,” Monson said. “They were [committed] to the scout and stayed with it. We gave up 17 points in the first four minutes of the first half. They stayed with it and gave up 23 in the first 15 of the first half. I think there are some positive things we can build on as we go forward and that’s what these games are for, for us to get better.”
The Beach shuffled their starting lineup for the first time in seven games, bringing in freshman guard Max De Geest and junior forward Jordan Roberts for the opening tip. The changes paid dividends right away as De Geest nailed three of the team’s 11 3-pointers with zero hesitation. Roberts finished with a team-high eight rebounds along with eight points and two steals.
“I thought guys were getting too comfortable with their roles,” Monson said. “When you’re losing and kids are starting to go the wrong direction, it’s your job to change some things up and see if we can get a spark. I thought Max came into the [starting] lineup and gave us a good spark to start the game.”
The Big West’s leading shot-blocker, freshman center Joshua Morgan, was terrific once again, putting up four rejections to go with 11 points and six rebounds. After going scoreless the game prior, sophomore guard Chance Hunter had a bounce back effort with a team-high 18 points, four 3-pointers, six rebounds and three steals.
“I thought the offense compared to where we were Saturday, we were able to get those guys some space,” Monson said. “When we get our guys space, we have a lot of guys who can score.”
Long Beach returns to the Walter Pyramid Thursday to host Southern Utah University at 7 p.m.