By way of buzzer-to-buzzer team defense and not one, but two game-clinching Michael Carter III left-wing fadeaways, the Long Beach State men’s basketball team has willed its way back into the Big West hoops fray with back-to-back wins.
Long Beach’s (9-17, 4-6 Big West) revenge 65-63 overtime victory over the Highlanders moved the team to a telling 4-1 record when holding Big West opponents under 70 points, signaling its growth and transition towards grit and grind basketball.
“This week, not only mentally did we come together, but guys really bought into [our identity],” head coach Dan Monson said after the Feb. 15 game versus UCR. “I said before the Hawai’i game, we gotta make the game ugly and win ugly games. That’s just who we are right now, and to these guys’ credit, they’re embracing that.”
Monson said a lot of the Beach’s recent success could be attributed to team meetings, with one running nearly four-hours-long before its 92-75 road loss to Cal Poly on Feb. 5.
“I think [the meeting] made a huge difference even though we lost that game,” Monson said. “It gave us something to point to, and then they had another little one after that. It’s great to see as a coach, guys growing and the team growing into a team.”
As with any team, success requires sacrifice. Both on paper and with the eye test, the Beach has started to do that with its keep-it-in-the-60s gameplan.
Giving up a mere 112 points in 85 minutes combined to Hawai’i and UC Riverside, the Beach appears primed to close out its final six conference games, building towards what it has tried to find all season-long—an identity.
“As far as us keeping it in the 60s, it’s no secret,” Monson said. “With new guys like this, your defense is going to be ahead of your offense. For us to compete in this league, we said we gotta keep it [around there]. Now, we’re even trying to slow it down offensively a little bit, limit our turnovers and get the pace down, just to try to get a good shot every time, not take so many risks, and help our defense.”
Although keeping games slow and controlled isn’t the best way to beef up the box score, the results in the win column is all Long Beach is concerned about, so much that it’s been a good problem to have.
“Mike and Colin [Slater] are walking it up so slow,” Monson said. “I’m yelling at them a couple times to get it over before 10 seconds comes out because they’re trying to do what we ask so much. It’s really pleasing to coach guys that are being coachable.”
With UC Irvine (17-10, 9-2) riding its own two-game winning streak, the Beach will have to execute its gameplan meticulously if it wants to complete the season sweep of the current conference king Wednesday.
A second win over the Anteaters would set the Beach up with a critical tiebreaker if necessary. As it stands in the Big West, the last-place teams are only two games out of second.
The bad news—UCI is 9-1 this season at the Bren Events Center (5-0 Big West), and hasn’t lost to a Big West opponent there in 11 tries since Long Beach State last rolled around in January 2019.
The good news—Long Beach showed the ability to hold the Anteaters to 56 points last month.
Long Beach will face UC Irvine at the Bren Events Center on Wednesday, Feb. 19, at 7 p.m.