Joel Murray didn’t pick a time to take over the Big West Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament quarterfinal on Thursday at Dollar Loan Center in Henderson, Nevada. The Long Beach State junior guard just did it.
“I just play within the game and everything figures itself out,” Murray said.
LBSU figured out how to speed the game up in the second half as Murray sparked the game-winning run in a 72-61 victory over Cal State Bakersfield.
The No. 1 seeded Beach will face the winner of UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara in the first semifinal on Friday night. Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m.
CSUB looked ready to pull off an upset in the early going while the teams traded the lead 10 times in the first half. Murray gave LBSU the lead for good on a 3-pointer just before halftime, and then he was key to the 15-4 run in the heart of the second half that clinched the victory.
“In the first 10 minutes they were the better team,” Monson said. “They were more physical than us and had us on our heels. But just like we’ve done all year, our guys stayed together, didn’t get frustrated and were able to flip the switch. The last 30 minutes we played pretty well.”
Murray scored 15 of his game-high 25 points in the second half while also contributing four assists. Senior Jordan Roberts chipped in 16 points and freshman Jadon Jones made three of his seven 3-point attempts on his way to 14 points.
“We knew we just had to stay together,” Roberts said of the slow start. “We knew we weren’t playing at our pace and that was the difference in the second half when we were able to step up, get some deflections and get out and run.”
LBSU only had two points off turnovers in the first half, but finished the game with 21 forced turnovers and 26 fast-break points. Murray, who made nine of his 13 field goal attempts, said the difference in the second half is something a lot of fans can’t see.
“It’s the little things,” Murray said. “It’s the huddles after a mistake. It’s picking each other up when we know we’re not playing up to our standards. All five guys on the court know that we can come together and figure it out.”
Both offenses opened the game at a blistering pace. Roberts made his first two 3-pointers while LBSU made five of its first six attempts from behind the arc. CSUB got swing guard Justin McCall involved early, and then Travis Henson came off the bench to spark an 8-0 run that put the Roadrunners up 19-15. McCall finished with a team-high 19 points.
In the heart of the first half LBSU went more than four minutes without a field goal, but just after the eight minute media timeout, the Beach extended its defense on the perimeter and forced three CSUB turnovers in one minute.
That defense sparked the offense and Murray keyed a 12-2 run that get gave the Beach a 34-31 lead at halftime. Going 8-for-11 from the free throw line also boosted LBSU while the Roadrunners were only 2-for-4 from the charity stripe in the first half. LBSU finished 20-for-26 from the free throw line.
After a bit of sloppy start to the second half, Murray got the Beach going just after the 16-minute media timeout. His pull up jumper, drawn charge and quick drive down the line for a layup were all part of a 7-0 run that helped LBSU get its lead to 10 points.
The Beach opened up its biggest lead of the day 65-50 with about five minutes left when back to back CSUB turnovers turned into an open-court opportunity for senior guard Colin Slater to find Murray for layups. LBSU led by 18 points when the starters were pulled with about three minutes to play.
LBSU will have to do a better job of controlling the pace against UCI or UCSB. They are the last two teams to beat the Beach in the regular season.
“If we don’t play our brand of basketball it can get ugly,” Murray said. “But if we play our brand of basketball we’ve proven we’ve beaten them before.”
“We were picked eighth in the (conference preseason poll) and we’re picked third to win (the conference tournament) but we know what we’re capable of,” Monson said. “People can say what they want about us but our guys believe in themselves and I think they’ll show that tomorrow.”