Improved defense has been the catalyst for the current Long Beach State men’s basketball winning streak, and once again it was the key to victory on Thursday night at Walter Pyramid.
The Beach locked down in the last seven minutes to beat CSU Bakersfield 74-65 for their seventh straight victory. This is the first time since 2013 that LBSU has won more than six consecutive games.
LBSU (11-9, 6-1) used an active zone defense to turn the tide in the final minutes. The game was tied 55-55 with 7:41 left in regulation, but the Beach outscored the visitors 19-10 down the stretch. Bakersfield only made three of its 14 shots from the field in the last seven minutes, and only one of its six shots from 3-point range.
“The (CSUB) penetration was hurting us,” LBSU coach Dan Monson said of switching to the zone. “The players want to play man, but I was proud of them because when we went to the zone they bought in. (Romelle Mansel) really made a difference for us to really turn the tide when he was at the top of the zone for the last four minutes.”
Monson and guard Colin Slater both praised Jordan Roberts and Drew Cobb for their defensive efforts as well. Roberts was out of position guarding the much larger CSUB forward Shawn Stith, but he helped limit him to only two points.
Cobb had been out due to COVID-19 protocols, but came off the bench and added that experience and leadership that’s so important on defense.
“I missed his voice on the court,” Slater said of Cobb. “He’s so vocal. When you’re up top as a guard you can’t see what’s behind you, and he’s always behind me talking and telling me what’s going on, like I have eyes in the back of my head.”
Slater scored a game-high 23 points while fellow guard Joel Murray had 16 points and a game-high five assists. They both maintained an aggressive approach on the offensive end, and went a combined 18-for-23 from the free throw line. Jadon Jones chipped in 13 points and five rebounds.
“Honestly, we talk about defense the whole game,” Slater said of he and Murray. “We know our role on offense and we have to get everybody involved and touch the paint. But our main thing is that if we don’t get it done on defense nothing matters. We just have to get stops.”
LBSU forward Aboubacar Traore was also impressive again with a double-double 14 points and 10 rebounds. His key steal and dunk in the final minutes gave the Beach a lead for good. It is his fourth double-double of the season.
“He’s become really valuable,” Monson said of Traore. “He’s kind of our X-factor and stabilizer on both ends of the floor. He wasn’t in foul trouble so knowing he would play more in the second half gives our guys confidence.”
The game was extremely close until the 9-0 run LBSU used to pull away with about four minutes left. There were 16 ties, 17 lead changes and the largest lead was only five points until the second half. It was 39-39 at halftime as CSUB guard Kaleb Higgins scored a team-high 21 points.
“That’s kind of how we played in the preseason when we tried to outscore people and not take control on the defensive end,” Monson said of the first half. “Thankfully we got some stops in the last six minutes. That was the first time we took control on the defensive end.”
“We’re so small that you can’t just play position defense,” he added. “You have to be out there getting some deflections and getting them to make plays on the move. The zone forced them to stand around and that allowed us to kind of finish it off.”
Slater also grabbed seven rebounds as LBSU outrebounded the visitors 35-34. CSUB (6-10, 1-5) is one of the best rebounding teams in the Big West Conference, and even though Monson said before the game that would be the most important statistic, he was still disappointed in other areas.
“We’re obviously getting better because I wasn’t happy with a win,” Monson said. “That just shows the progress we’re making.”
LBSU is now in a three-way tie for first place in the Big West with Hawaii and Cal State Fullerton. The Beach will be at home on Saturday to host Cal Poly at 4 p.m. and then will host Fullerton on Tuesday to finish off the home stand.
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