LOS ANGELES — Starting off its season for the second year in a row at Pauley Pavilion, Long Beach State men’s basketball couldn’t complete the upset against UCLA after dropping a six-point lead with 5:39 remaining.
Both squads met in Westwood for a repeat of last season’s opening affair, however, the game and the personnel involved looked a lot different this time around.
For UCLA (1-0), the Bruin faithful 8-clapped the return of 13 players with a new coaching staff led by head coach Mick Cronin. For Long Beach State, head coach Dan Monson debuted for his 13th season with a roster of nine newcomers.
“We played six players [out of nine] who have never scored a point here and have never scored a point in a college game,” Monson said. “I was pleased overall, but I feel the pain for these guys that we couldn’t close out the contest.”
Long Beach State (0-1) came out firing from three in the first half with sophomore guards Michael Carter III (20 pts, 4 3pts) hitting a pair from distance on the right-wing, and Chance Hunter (19 pts, 4 3pts) sinking back-to-back-to-back triples on the opposite side.
Through 20 minutes of play, the Beach led 33-27 at halftime shooting 50% from three and 52% overall, despite only having one assisted basket.
Early into the second half, junior guard Colin Slater and Hunter both picked up their fourth personal fouls, forcing the Beach to rely more on their bench of new players.
Looking for an answer to UCLA’s scoring inside the paint, most notably from sophomore forward Cody Riley and junior guard Chris Smith, Monson drew up an unconventional 3-2 zone with freshmen forward Romelle Mansel at the top of the key and center Joshua Morgan (10 pts, 7 reb, 3 blks) on the interior. The Beach was able to hold its own defensively early on into the second half with Mansel’s long wingspan pestering UCLA redshirt freshman point guard Tyger Campbell on-ball, and Morgan showing the ability to get blocks while helping from the weak side.
“I think both of them did a great job of stepping up and helping us,” junior guard Drew Cobb said. “[Joshua Morgan] came in, did his job, got a lot of blocks, a lot of rebounds. Same with Romelle Mansel. They’re both amazing on the defensive end and I’m excited to see what they do going forward with the season.”
Down the stretch, the Bruins’ full-court pressure coupled with the energy from the home crowd proved to be too much for the Beach and its personal scoring runs from Carter III.
With two minutes left in the game, UCLA took the lead 60-58 off of a Riley layup and stretched it out to five after a Carter III turnover out of a Beach timeout led to a big-time three by senior guard Prince Ali.
“We played so well,” Monson said, “but we didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to close out these type of games. We are improving. We played better tonight than we played in the two scrimmages that we had. I felt like we had UCLA off-balance, but those last two minutes, we couldn’t take advantage of them.”
The Beach returns to the Walter Pyramid Saturday as the second half of a Homecoming doubleheader against the University of San Diego at 3:30 p.m. right after the women’s basketball team hosts Westcliff at 1 p.m.