Long Beach State came into Saturday’s game against UC Irvine riding a three-game win streak and playing arguably best ball of the season. With momentum on their side, the Beach used aggressive defense and timely offense to top UC Irvine 73-67, extending their win streak to four games.
“Today was a team win, we needed everybody,” said Beach coach Dan Monson after the game. “They went and won that game, they played hard, they played together, and they did what we asked.”
Joel Murray led the Beach with 24 points and 4 rebounds, while Aboubacar Traore added 19 points along with 4 blocks and 7 rebounds.
It was a competitive and tight first half, with both teams struggling with their shot. In the second half however, the Beach overmatched UC Irvine’s intensity on the defensive side of the ball. The Beach forced a total of 16 turnovers off UC Irvine, 11 of them coming in the 2nd half.
The excellent defense paired with good transition offense propelled the Beach to a 14-3 run to take a 54-31 lead with about 10 minutes to play.
“We were guarding the ball better, contesting shots better. I was really pleased with the aggressiveness we played with tonight, particularly in the second half,” said Monson.
However, UC Irvine responded with a 12-2 run of their own, as the Beach began to tire defensively. After leading by as many as 13, the Beach found themselves trailing UC Irvine 59-58 with 3:45 left to play.
“Basketball is a game of runs. And good championship teams like UC Irvine, they’re not gonna lay down,” said Monson. “We had a chance to really squeeze them out and finish it off, but we let Irvine back in a little bit.”
When they needed it most, Colin Slater, who had been struggling all night with his shot, hit a clutch 3 from the corner as well as a layup on the ensuing possession to give the Beach a 66-64 lead.
“Trusting your teammates, we have full trust in one another,” said Joel Murray when asked about Slater. “We believe in each other down the stretch, no matter what we always have confidence in each other to make shots when we need to.”
The Beach were then able to recapture their intense defense by getting three key stops, including a steal from Murray and a clutch block from Jadon Jones. Those stops along with free throws put the game away, and the Beach left the Pyramid victorious.
“You have to earn confidence, and these guys have earned some confidence, some swagger,” said Monson. “It’s still not where it needs to be, but it’s trending in the right direction. Our guys believe in each other down the stretch, and it showed today.”
The Beach will look to continue their win streak when they travel to play UC Riverside on Thursday.