Long Beach State men’s basketball is entering the Big West Conference Tournament as an underdog again this week, and coach Dan Monson is embracing the challenge.
“Our team is in a good mindset and we’re playing our best basketball at the right time,” Monson said. “But I felt like we were playing our best basketball last year and we were out in the first round for the first time in eight years. That’s what makes it March Madness, and what everybody loves about it.”
The No. 5 seeded LBSU men start the tournament tonight against No. 4 seed Hawaii at the Honda Center. Tip off is scheduled for 8:30 p.m.
LBSU (14-18, 8-8) is on a five-game winning streak but lost both of its regular season games against Hawaii in the span of eight days. The Beach lost at Hawaii 74-57 on Jan. 31, and were defeated again at Walter Pyramid 77-70 on Feb. 7.
On Thursday, LBSU will once again rely on point guard Deishuan Booker, who was named First-Team All-Big West on Monday. The senior is the sixth LBSU point guard in the last nine seasons to make the first team.
“I feel like the team has let Booker down (like Gabe Levin last year) because he had a good enough season to be the Big West MVP, but because of where the team finished, he wasn’t able to get that award,” Monson said.
Booker led LBSU with 23.3 points per game in conference play, second in the Big West, and he was leading the nation in free throws made for most of the season. He has also made 46 consecutive free throws.
LBSU seniors Mason Riggins and Bryan Alberts each earned All-Big West honorable mention, but senior Temidayo Yussuf will be a key against Hawaii. He ranks in the top five for rebounding in the conference, and had a team-high 18 points in the loss at Walter Pyramid.
“We know we’re better than we’ve played,” Yussuf said. “Our confidence is high right now. Like coach has been preaching to us all year, the best team is usually the team that’s having the best rhythm going into the tournament, and we realize we have that right now.”
“We also know that we’ve shown we can beat anybody in this league, but we’ve also shown we haven’t been consistent enough to do it for three straight days,” Monson said. “I was hoping that we would have some players infiltrate these seniors and help them a little bit. Through injuries, suspensions, this and that we didn’t have enough surprises. It’s kind of the same group last year without Gabe Levin, and that’s a big hit.”