Early Season Storm Testing Men’s Basketball Limits

Source: Peter Aiken/Getty Images

Challenging schedule putting LBSU through adversity with unexpected effects

By Matthew Gozzip   Athletics Editor

 The Beach men’s basketball team can’t seem to weather the early season maelstrom of top-ranked teams.

Three weeks into the most difficult non-conference schedule in the nation, Long Beach State is nursing a 1-7 record and a sense of broken confidence rattled by blowout losses.

In the first four games of their grueling road trip, the 49er’s lost by a combined margin of 132 points. LBSU’s opponents in this stretch essentially scored a whole half’s worth more of points each game. Besides just being outscored, The Beach trailed their opponents in every major statistical category including shooting percentage, rebounds and assists.

The main motif of these contests has been slow starts that have allowed athletically superior teams to put the game out of reach early. The no. 4 ranked North Carolina Tar Heels rocketed out to a 14-0 lead before LBSU even scored. In the very next match against the top-ten ranked Louisville Cardinals, the 49ers conceded an 18-point run in the first half that all but ended the game early.

“We just weren’t able to withstand that first blow to stay in the game,” said LBSU head coach Dan Monson after the UL game. “Once we got comfortable, it was too late, and the game was over. You come on these road trips to give the team some adversity, to help make them better, and I don’t think we handled it any better than we did [against UNC]”.

Three days later, the no.13 ranked UCLA Bruins thrashed LBSU by 37 points, the largest margin of defeat for the 49ers in five years.

Scheduling the best teams in the nation is nothing new for Coach Monson and the program but this season has been markedly different. Instead of competing and gradually improving by playing against the top teams, LBSU seems to have the same glaring issues  every game.

 The diminutive 49ers recognize that their most effective play style blends quick transition offense and consistent mid-range shooting to counter larger and more athletic squads. Unfortunately for LBSU, the team isn’t shooting well. Of all the players that have attempted fifty or more field goal attempts this season, forward Gabe Levin is the only player to convert more than 45% of his shots. Team three-point shooting is just as inefficient, hovering right above 30%.

What are more worrisome than the results against top-tier competition are the negative effects these contests are having on team performance against lesser talented teams. LBSU lost to the 

Binghamton Bearcats, an unheralded program that has not reached the NCAA tournament in nearly a decade. The Beach surrendered a seven-point halftime lead, allowing the Bearcats to score triple the amount of points in the second half.

 Poor perimeter defending, an egregious amount of fouls and untimely turnovers mixed with the ever-present shooting woes resulted in one of the most embarrassing results of the season. The players are becoming emotionally affected by these blowout losses against teams they are not expected to defeat and it has severely impacted their performance in games against competition they are expected to defeat.

“Justin Bibbins started laughing. He said ‘I never thought of that, it seems like [the season] has been three months,’” Monson said in a postgame interview. “And again, that’s somebody who’s been through this for his third time. As a coach, I’m really concerned about them mentally because of all the years I’ve done this, this has been the hardest stretch and this team was not ready for it.”

Ironically enough, the success of program in future games will be sticking to the play style they have been using all season. Against the Washington Huskies, one of the more talented teams in the country, the 49ers kept the score close even though they were physically outmatched. 

Washington’s Markelle Fultz, the top-ranked recruit in the nation and future NBA lottery pick, was contained by the Beach backcourt and Levin for more than three-quarters of the game before he eventually broke out. Evan Payne, the high-scoring transfer playing in his first season for LBSU, came off the bench and played arguably his best game for The Beach, scoring 19 points and committted only one turnover.

 As a team, LBSU shot 52% from the field, including 59% percent on three-point attempts and 95% from the free-throw line. Even though LBSU lost 94-88, the game proved that once the 49ers find their shot and continue to apply ball pressure regardless of their height disadvantage, they could still can compete against any team in the nation.

In their most recent game against Florida Gulf Coast Eagles, the 49ers gained a new skill: resiliency. The game was a high-spirited battle that ended up extending into overtime before the Eagles scored on a last-second bucket to hand LBSU a 68-67 loss. Even though their field-goal percentage was low once again, The Beach displayed a level of grittiness and hustle that was absent for most of the season. The FGCU game was just the latest contest in the last three games that was decided by eight points or less, a marked improvement compared to LBSU’s first five games.

Despite the early season struggles, there is optimism that the 49ers will eventually be able to find consistency in executing their designated play style and cultivate team chemistry in a squad that hasn’t really played that much together.The core group of Levin, Payne, Bibbins, guard Noah Blackwell, guard Noah Blackwell and forward Temidayo Yussuf, has yet to play consistent minutes with each other than practices.

 Griffin and Payne in particular  are new to the program and are still adjusting their rspective play styles to the system. Payne sat out a whole year due to transfer rules while Griffin is adapting to the college game enitrely coming and giving sigfnicant minutes to the Beach.

Scheduling the best teams is nothing new for Coach Monson and the program but this season has been markedly different.

 That’s what Monson intended to do from the start, to test his team’s will and address any issues that his inexperienced squad could improve on before participaing in conference play.

“We’re being exposed by these good teams but that’s why we play these games,” Monson said. “We don’t want to be figuring out what to work on in January. We know what we need to fix.”

The most powerful forces in the college basketball world converged on the Beach and did devastating damage. However, the 49ers are attempting to move forward toward the eye of the storm where there is no chaos or panic, only peace of mind to observe what can be improved on. Only time will tell if LBSU can weather the adversity as it continues to challenge this young squad as they attempt to stay the course. 

LBSU plays Kansas at 5p.m. Monday night  on ESPN3.  KBeach will be providing an online radio broadcast.

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