The562’s coverage of Long Beach State athletics for the 2022-23 season is sponsored by Marilyn Bohl.
This season has been full of chances for Long Beach State men’s basketball to show it’s ready for primetime in the clutch moments, but Thursday night was a wasted opportunity.
After an extremely close contest, a last-second bucket sunk LBSU in overtime of the Big West Conference opener at Walter Pyramid. Joel Murray and the Beach were able to force the extra period, but Bryce Pope’s game-winning jumper gave UC San Diego the 85-83 win.
“I feel like we stuck together, we just didn’t get the stops we needed and they made the shots and we didn’t,” Murray said. “Earlier in the season this probably wouldn’t have been an overtime game, and I think everyone in the locker room can admit that. But we stayed together in the clutch moments. We were down by three with a minute left and we found a way to tie it up. We just have to find a way to close it.”
The tight Big West clash included 12 ties and six lead changes while LBSU led the rebounding (48-44), assists (16-13) and block (5-4) stat lines.
“That was a good college basketball game and credit San Diego for making the plays they needed to win,” LBSU coach Dan Monson said. “There’s a long way to go and we’re right where we were last year, we’re 0-1 in (Big West) with a home loss so it’s not time to panic. It’s time to be competitive and get better.”
LBSU (6-7, 0-1) was led by a season-high 22 points from Murray while Marcus Tsohonis chipped in 13 points and career-high seven rebounds and six assists. Forward Aboubacar Traore delivered his fifth double-double of the season with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
UCSD (6-7, 1-0) was led by a game-high 25 points from Bryce Pope, who scored seven points in overtime.
“I still like my team and we’re getting better,” Monson said. “Obviously, defensively we have a ways to go. We were able to take away the 3 tonight but we weren’t able to keep it out of the paint when we did that and it caused problems. In the first half we had three stops in a row four times, but in the second half we only got three stops in a row once.”
UCSD opened up an early 6-0 lead thanks to a pair of And-1 finishes under the basket, and LBSU got back into the game by doing the same. Traore helped the Beach turn the tide down low and the home side responded with a 7-2 run while the Tritons missed eight consecutive field goal attempts.
LBSU opened the game by missing its first five shots from behind the arc, but a Traore block led to a run out and a Jadon Jones 3-pointer that gave the Beach its first lead 24-23 with five minutes left in the first half. A few possessions later, an offensive rebound created an opportunity for Murray to hit an open 3-pointer and take a 27-23 lead.
The Beach led 32-29 at halftime.
A blistering start to the second half saw 12 combined points in the first two minutes after the break. UCSD’s Francis Nwaokorie made a 3-pointer to cap the run and tie the game 38-38.
LBSU had three consecutive blocks from Traore, Amari Stroud and Jones got the home crowd going just before the 16 minute media timeout, but UCSD got a thunderous dunk from Roddie Anderson III to take back the momentum.
However, Tone Hunter came off the bench to spark a run for LBSU. The point guard’s pull up jumper gave the Beach a 47-41 lead, but the Tritons answered with a 7-1 run to tie the game.
Tsohonis provided three consecutive assists just after the 10 minute mark and the resulting buckets from Murray, Jones and Chayce Polynice put LBSU up 62-56.
“I’ve played point guard in college at other places so I’ve always had that in my game, so it’s just about time and place and what everyone needs from me,” said Tsohonis, who is with his third team in as many years.
“He’s getting comfortable,” Monson said of Tsohonis. “Everyone has had a different role and system for him and that’s hard to do. He’s got to trust us, and we’ve got to trust him. We’re getting there. I think this was his best game of the year. And you always want your last game to be your best game so he’s gotta come back and play better Saturday.”
Once again, UCSD was able to slow the game down and grind its way back into a 64-64 tie with less than four minutes left to play. Jones answered a UCSD 3-pointer to keep it even before the two teams traded defensive stops.
Traore put the Beach up 71-69 with 1:57 left, and after Anderson III tied it on a driving layup, LBSU turned the ball over. Pope and Murray traded buckets in the final minute, and then Murray missed a runner as the regulation clock expired.
The overtime period turned into a battle between Murray and Pope as they traded buckets. After A. Traore free throws tied the game 83-83 with about 30 seconds left, Pope dribbled down the clock and drilled the game-winning jump shot with 1.3 left.
Hunter got an off-balance shot up at the baseline on a long pass but it fell short.
“Win or lose today we’ve got to flush it because we’ve got a big game on Saturday against a team that has proven they’ll finish higher than the team we just played,” Monson said about hosting UC Riverside on Saturday at 3 p.m. “We’ve got to play better.”
“It’s a long season and we still have 19 more conference games so we’ll just figure it out game by game,” Murray added.