HENDERSON, Nev.– As Joel Murray sprinted down the court and sank a layup to put a cap on a 7-0 run late in the game over CSU Bakersfield, the usually stoic men’s basketball head coach Dan Monson leaped out of his chair, jumping up and down with his team, screaming in excitement.
It was that kind of afternoon for Long Beach State men’s basketball as they toppled Bakersfield, 72-61 with a dominant second half at the Dollar Loan Center in Henderson, Nevada, advancing to the Big West Conference tournament semifinals.
“I’m proud of my guys, we struggled in certain areas but we keep working,” Monson said. “We aren’t satisfied yet. We didn’t come here to play in the semifinal, we came here to prove to everyone [this season] wasn’t a fluke.”
Although Bakersfield was the No. 9 seed, they came out as if they were the favorite to win it all. The Roadrunner’s defense seemed to overpower The Beach’s offensive capabilities. The Beach was struggling with turnovers early in the first half.
Murray gave up the ball four times in the first half while senior Jordan Roberts lost possession three times. The Roadrunners capitalized on this, scoring 14 points off turnovers in the first half.
LBSU had trouble putting the ball in the net during the first period. There was a 4-minute stretch where The Beach couldn’t make a point. The Roadrunners were able to exploit LBSU’s slow start to lead by a couple of points for most of the half.
“For the first 10 minutes [Bakersfield] was the better team,” Monson said. “They were more physical than us, they had us on our heels offensively, and they controlled their shots.”
Monson made the tough decision to sit Big West Player of the Year Collin Slater for the last five minutes of the first half to avoid being fouled out after picking up two early on. Murray and Jordan led the offense in the first half, scoring 10 points apiece.
As the half went on, Long Beach State started to apply full-court pressure and began scoring off turnovers just as CSU Bakersfield did. The Beach went on an 8-0 run towards the end of the first half to distance themselves from The Roadrunners 34-28.
“We knew we had to stay together, we weren’t playing our pace,” Roberts said. “We were playing at Bakersfield’s pace so we knew we had to come out and pick it up.”
Coming out in the second half, The Beach tightened up its defense, began to take more shots, and trusted its offense more. After the Roadrunners took the lead 40-39 early in the second half, LBSU would go on a 15-2 run, never looking back.
The Beach also gave Bakersfield a taste of its own medicine, as they forced the Roadrunners into 11 turnovers for the second half.
Freshman Jadon Jones had a huge second half offensively for The Beach. The 6-foot-5 guard scored nine points and grabbed two rebounds in 16 minutes during the second half.
“Jadon is a big game player, he has a different hop in his step and gives us that swagger,” Monson said. “When Jadon gets going, it spreads across the court.”
Murray, like most of the season, led the game in points scored with 25. The 6-foot guard out of West Texas A&M went 9-13 from the field and was a perfect 2-2 in three-pointers.
“We knew we turned the ball over a lot early, but we knew we had to play together as a team and take care of the ball,” Murray said.
After taking a 71-54 lead with 1:47 remaining in the game, Monson emptied his bench to give his starters a much-needed rest. The team was able to hold on to the lead, securing the win and eliminating Bakersfield.
“Long Beach plays a game of spurts, you can be right there and all of a sudden they will run off 10 points on you,” said Bakersfield head coach, Rod Barnes. “They dug too big of a hole for us and that cost us the game. [Long Beach] deserved to win.”
Long Beach State will face the winner of the game between UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara tomorrow at 6 p.m. The Beach went 1-1 against both opponents during the regular season.
“If we don’t play our brand of basketball tomorrow it can get ugly,” Murray said. “If we play our brand of basketball we’ve proven we can beat both of them.”
The game will be available to watch and viewers can stream it on ESPN+.