A trip to the NCAA Tournament is on the line tonight at Dollar Loan Center in Henderson, Nevada when Long Beach State takes on Cal State Fullerton in the Big West Conference Tournament championship game. Tip-off is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. and it will be on ESPN2.
The No. 1 seeded Beach took down CSU Bakersfield and UC Santa Barbara in the tournament to reach this final. The No. 2 seeded Titans beat UC Davis and Hawaii. LBSU is trying to reach its first NCAA Tournament since 2012.
Despite being the conference regular season champion LBSU will be the underdog again tonight, according to Las Vegas odds makers. Fullerton is favored by -1.5 today, and the Beach was a four-point underdog in the semifinal against UCSB.
“We were picked to finish eighth in this league,” LBSU coach Dan Monson said after the semifinal win. “We came into this tournament as the regular season champions and Vegas had Fullerton, Hawaii and Santa Barbara with better odds to win the tournament. Nobody expected us to win except those guys in the locker room.”
LBSU senior guard Colin Slater, who is the Big West Player of the Year, scored 30 points against UCSB before freshman Jadon Jones hit the game-winning buzzer beater.
“We’re always the underdog and we feel like we’ve got something to prove every time we step on the floor,” Slater said.
After their first scheduled regular season meeting was canceled due to COVID, LBSU beat CSUF 71-61 in early February when they were tied for first place in the Big West. In that game, Slater scored a game-high 19 points while Jones chipped in 15 points and a pair of key steals.
“Our pace and going at people in the second half was really the difference,” Monson said in that post game press conference. “We just kept attacking. And we defended them better than they did us in the second half… (The press) made them cautious. All of a sudden they were a different team against that press. They didn’t attack it until we got nine straight stops. It got our offense going. We have to be a team that creates offense off our defense.”
LBSU is 15-0 this season when holding their opponents under 70 points, and is averaging 74 points per game.
Fullerton is making its third conference tournament championship game appearance in the last four years. The Titans won the title in 2018.
In the semifinals win over Hawaii, Big West Newcomer of the Year E.J. Anosike recorded his second tournament double-double with 16 points and 13 rebounds for Fullerton. It’s the 36th double-double of his career and Big West-leading 10th of the season. Damari Milstead led the Titans with 18 points and three steals.
This is the 125th meeting between LBSU and Fullerton. The last and only time they played in the conference championship game was 1978 when the Titans won.