The Long Beach State basketball team hasn’t had many reasons to laugh during the 2020-21 season, having spent much of it in quarantine or losing close games on the court.
On Tuesday, it had a true laugher. Ninth-seeded Long Beach jumped on eighth-seeded Cal State Northridge in their Big West Tournament first-round game at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, going on an 11-0 run early and essentially never stopping, breaking out to a 20-point lead by halftime and cruising to an 85-63 win.
Long Beach (6-11) enjoyed good early energy against a Matador team that shot the basketball as if it was a foreign object and played defense as if they were, well, Matadors. CSUN was 7 for 36 shooting in the first half (19.4%) which included missing 11 of 14 layups. The Matadors (9-13) finished the game at 29% – the worst mark by a Long Beach opponent this season – and were outrebounded 48-31.
“We picked the right day to have our best game,” said LBSU coach Dan Monson, whose team advances to a quarterfinal against top-seeded UC Santa Barbara (19-4) on Thursday at 11 a.m. “We had guys like Jadon (Jones) who had a special day, but everyone else did their jobs. It showed how good they can be when they do your job.
“After all the tough games we played, it was a fun game to coach. They were prepared. It’s been a few years since we had a game like that.”
Jones led Long Beach with his first career double-double (19 points, 11 rebounds). The freshman from St. Anthony High more than doubled his season average of 7.2 points per game.
Chance Hunter added 13 points and Joe Hampton had 10, with Isaiah Washington adding nine rebounds and four assists. LBSU scored 38 points in the paint.
“He’s given us a great lift,” Monson said of Jones. “He’s aggressive on offense and had a great game rebounding. He’s a very coachable kid.”
“It felt great, especially knowing how the coach emphasized rebounding the last few games,” Jones said. “I’m excited about the rebounds. I’m not the biggest kid out there, so I have to want it more.”
CSUN’s TJ Starks, the junior transfer from Texas A&M who led the Big West in scoring, had 23 points on 9-for-23 shooting but also seven turnovers. Atin Wright added 16 points and Alex Merkviladze had 10 rebounds.
CSUN coach Mark Gottfried, an assistant coach on UCLA’s 1995 national championship team, called it one of the oddest games he’s coached.
“We started so poorly,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever had a game where we went so long and no one could get the ball in the basket. Outside or inside. And then I think it started to affect our defense. We pressed a bit and the game just steamrolled on us.
“And Long Beach played terrific. They lose a player and then Jones comes up with a big game.”
Monson dismissed second-leading scorer Michael Carter III hours before its regular-season finale against UC Irvine on Saturday after a verbal altercation with the officials. Jones inherited additional minutes on Tuesday and made the most of them.
“I was really surprised because we played well in our last game,” Starks said. “We had a good shoot-around yesterday and a good warmup. We’re all disappointed, but that’s basketball.”
LBSU is eager for its matchup with the regular-season champion Gauchos after the teams’ two regular-season meetings were canceled because of COVID-19 protocols.
“I’m confident,” Jones said. “We have a lot more to accomplish. In the locker room after the game, no one was celebrating. We’re excited to keep playing.”
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