SAN DIEGO– Long Beach State men’s basketball hung around with the National Champion runner-ups but was outlasted by the Aztecs 88-76 in front of a packed crowd of 12,414.
The game’s tone was set before tip-off when the rowdy SDSU student section turned their backs to the LBSU player introductions. They played a vital role in switching the momentum and holding it in favor of the Aztecs all night.
Basketball is a game of runs. The Beach had multiple runs that would ultimately keep them within striking distance for the majority of the game but squandered those opportunities too many times by committing unnecessary fouls, allowing SDSU to get back in rhythm.
Steals were vital in sparking a lot of their runs as at times The Beach would shift to a half-court press defense that put pressure on the Aztecs to get the ball across the halfway line. The Beach hung around all night and clawed their way back into the game, cutting the Aztec lead down to three points with 14:21 left in the second half.
A steal by senior guard Messiah Thompson resulting from the aforementioned half-court press led to two converted free throws from junior forward Aboubacar Traore, putting The Beach the closest it had been since the first two minutes of the game.
Sophomore guard AJ George was a bright spot for The Beach, scoring 15 points on 5-10 shooting. He was extremely effective in finishing at the rim and creating opportunities for himself by cutting along the baseline and running out on fast breaks.
SDSU fans were treated to a very physical game as both teams dueled in the paint and on the glass as The Beach scored 43% of its points in the paint while 45% of SDSU’s points came in the paint.
SDSU’s outstanding senior forward Jaedon LeDee, who is as physical as it gets in college basketball, controlled the paint for the Aztecs scoring 27 points on 8-12 shooting while converting all 10 of his free throws.
It was evident that the Aztecs wanted to get him going early as they went to him in the post on the first play of the game, and he converted.
“We kind of prepared mentally before we got here [for the physicality.] But at the end of the day, no matter how prepared you are, the game is going to be different,” Traore said.
Junior guard Jadon Jones is The Beach’s best shooter, but they were without him for most of the second half when they needed him most due to foul trouble. He picked up his fourth foul with 19:12 remaining in the second half and sat out until there were 10:40 left in the half and would foul out with 5:58 remaining.
“He [Jones] spreads the court for us you know. He’s an absolute weapon,” Monson said. “And early in the game, he was our only weapon.”
On a night when the SDSU crowd was ignited by a posterizing dunk from Aztec senior guard Micah Parrish and a between-the-legs football hike esque pass from fellow senior guard Darrion Trammell, The Beach did not succumb to the circumstances and hung around all game.
The Beach’s efforts would not be enough as clutch buckets from Long Beach native and USC transfer junior guard Reese Waters and NCAA Tournament hero senior guard Lamont Butler would douse The Beach’s flames.
Another tough game is on the horizon for The Beach as they are set to take on Michigan in Ann Arbor on Friday at 7 p.m.