The Beach will still play in the NIT tournament next week. https://t.co/UiO52jFDgE
— Daily 49er Sports (@D49erSports) March 13, 2022
HENDERSON, Nev.– As the doors to the press conference room swung open inside the Dollar Loan Center, Long Beach State head coach Dan Monson walked in by himself, his eyes still wet from the tears.
Ten minutes earlier Monson watched as his team had possession of the ball, down by one point with 20 seconds left in the Big West Conference Tournament championship game against CSU Fullerton.
He watched senior Colin Slater, who had 23 points in the game, pass the ball to Joel Murray, who led the game with 24 points. Murray then passed the ball to freshman Jadon Jones, who hit a game-winning 3-point buzzer-beater the night before to get The Beach to this moment.
Monson stood in front of the scoring table and watched as the ball was passed back around to Slater and to Murray once again, waiting for anyone to get a shot off.
The shot never came.
Long Beach State lost 72-71 ending its hopes for a Big West championship and an NCAA tournament bid.
Instead, Long Beach State will go on to play in the NIT Tournament.
“We were scattered, it was a great job by Fullerton, they pressured us out,” Monson said. “I’m bummed that our guys didn’t get a shot up. You got to get a shot there and have an opportunity to continue.”
Even with the loss still fresh in his mind, Monson refused to call this season a disappointment.
His team had defied expectations all year.
From November when they were picked to finish 8th in the conference, to December after a lackluster 3-7 start, nobody believed this team had confidence.
Even after rattling off an 11-game winning streak to turn their season around and claim the No. 1 seed in the Big West Tournament nobody thought Long Beach State men’s basketball had a chance to make it as far as they did.
Monson knew his team had what it took to make it to March Madness.
“Our guys continued to get better, continued to believe in themselves when nobody did,” Monson said. “They came in here as the number one seed and still nobody thought that they were the best team. Ultimately we came up short, but I still wouldn’t trade this team for anybody.”
Long Beach came out the first half applying pressure early on and played well offensively, which was an unusual sight for the team this season. Long Beach has been a strong second-half team, however, head coach Dan Monson felt The Beach needed to come out aggressive early if they wanted a chance to win.
Joel Murray, Colin Slater, and Jordan Roberts led the way offensively as they were the only players to score for The Beach in the first half. Murray scored 10 while Roberts scored 8. Slater kept his momentum going from last night’s game against UC Santa Barba and hit three 3-pointers within the first couple of minutes and had 13 points in total in the half.
“I thought we were in a good place,” Monson said. “We were prepared, we were locked in. You know, we really were in attack mode, both defensively and offensively.”
After the Beach grabbed a 14 point lead with a little over 4 minutes left in the half, Slater sat to get a rest and avoid fouling out. With the Big West Player of the Year off the court, Fullerton’s offense found its groove. The Titans went on a 17-2 run to grab a one-point lead going into the next half, 32-21.
“The worst thing that can happen in a team is coming out to a fast start because they kind of relax,” Monson said. “All of a sudden some of the little things aren’t as important, and they made us pay.”
After the half, it became a 3-point competition between both teams.
Fullerton has not been one of the better 3-point shooting teams this year as the team shot 33% for the season. They would manage to hit six of its first 3-point attempts and finished the second half 7-10.
Long Beach State, who averages six 3-pointers a game, went 8-13 from behind the line in the second half and hit 12 overall.
With one minute remaining in the game, Fullerton grabbed a 72-68 lead. Long Beach responded with a 3-point shot from Jones to bring the score within one point with 38 seconds left.
Then Fullerton’s defense applied intense pressure to secure its trip to March Madness.
“It’s tough in that locker room and that’s a good thing,” Monson said. “They love each other, they care about each other. They worked really hard with a goal to get to the NCAA tournament and came up one point short.”
Even with the loss, The Beach’s season is not over yet. LBSU will participate in the NIT Tournament next week.
“Our guys don’t want to hear that right now,” Monson said. “But what makes them so resilient is they have character, and they’re winners. [I know] next week, they’ll be excited to play.”