Battered and bruised in this season’s second Black and Blue Rivalry matchup, the Long Beach State men’s basketball team’s two-game winning streak was snapped by UC Irvine 70-55 Wednesday.
In addition to the Anteaters closing on an 8-0 run to cap off their 44-point second half, injuries to sophomore guard Chance Hunter and freshman forward Romelle Mansel deflated the Beach (9-18, 4-7 Big West) as the final buzzer sounded at the Bren Events Center.
Although details of the severity of their injuries and possible recovery timelines remain to be announced, the hits to two of the Beach’s starters were felt the rest of the game.
With the score in the low 20s after the first half, Irvine (18-10, 10-2 Big West) quickly capitalized with a 10-0 run to extend its 3-point halftime lead to 13.
“[UC Irvine] came right at us,” Long Beach State assistant coach Bobby Braswell said. “We didn’t get the early stops that we needed. I think we lost our wind a little bit when we found out Chance wasn’t going to be able to go in the second half. … We just got a little bit small with our rotations, and they took advantage of the size advantage.”
After going to the free throw line just once in the two programs’ first meeting, senior forward Tommy Rutherford took 13 attempts from the stripe. With timely putbacks and jump hooks, Rutherford led the Anteaters with 16 points and six rebounds.
UCI’s other 1,000-point career-scoring seniors, guards Eyassu Worku and Evan Leonard, had a groove going throughout the night as well, combining with Rutherford for 46 of the Anteaters’ 70 points. The Beach dropped to 0-15 on the season when allowing 70 or more.
“Rutherford hurt us late in that game,” Braswell said. “[He] got a couple of deep catches and baskets. That’s when we really went small. We had four guards playing and they kind of took advantage of that.”
Outscoring Irvine 38-11 in bench points, the Beach’s second unit was able to keep them in the game.
Despite dealing with a dislocated pinky-finger on his shooting hand, suffered a few games ago, sophomore guard Michael Carter III was the Beach’s leading scorer with 16 points. In addition to throwing down a powerful right-hand tomahawk over Rutherford on the break, junior forward Jordan Roberts nearly double-doubled with 6 points and a team-high 10 rebounds.
Helping Long Beach make one last run down the stretch in a small-ball lineup, senior guard Jordan Griffin knocked down two 3-pointers, which tied him with Ron Johnson for 15th on Long Beach State’s all-time career 3-point record with 102 makes.
“We’ll come back,” Braswell said. “We’ll be ready to fight at home against Hawai’i, another team that we beat already. They’re going to be hungry to come to our place and beat us, so we gotta get our guys ready.”
Long Beach State will return to the Walter Pyramid to host Hawai’i Saturday, Feb. 22, at 4 p.m.