The562’s coverage of Long Beach State athletics for the 2022-23 season is sponsored by Marilyn Bohl.
A Joel Murray led offense and a work in progress defense has been the story of this Long Beach State men’s basketball season— until Thursday night at Walter Pyramid.
The Beach was without top scorers Murray (wrist) and Marcus Tsohonis (ankle) but relied on balanced scoring and tenacious defense to cruise past Cal Poly 77-58 in Big West Conference action. This is the first time LBSU (8-9, 2-3) has held a Division 1 opponent under 60 points.
“I’m proud of our guys because we’ve had a tough, fundamental week of getting back to the basics defensively and they were coachable,” LBSU coach Dan Monson said. “There was a different tone, attitude and effort on defense.”
LBSU came into the game ranked last in team defense in the Big West, but the timing of the matchup worked in its favor since Cal Poly is towards the bottom of the conference’s offensive rankings. The Beach limited the Mustangs (7-10, 1-4) to 34.5 percent shooting from the field while forcing 19 turnovers.
In his first collegiate start in place of Murray, sophomore point guard Tone Hunter scored 12 points while maintaining a high tempo in the open floor.
“That’s always been my type of game,” Hunter said. “They call me ‘5 seconds’ so I just get down there and run. I just tried to get out into the open floor and get the ball moving to let (Aboubacar Traore) and some of these guys be athletes.”
A. Traore contributed in all aspects with 12 points, seven rebounds, five assists and a pair of steals. The sophomore was recruited as a guard but moved into the paint last year to fill a team rebounding need. He and Lassina Traore, who had 12 points and eight rebounds in the game, are two of the best rebounders in the Big West.
“I still have that guard mentality in me,” Traore said. “We were talking about it all week that we all had to step up.”
“I told all of them before the game that we’re not going to replace those guys with individuals, we have to replace them as a team, but everybody needs to get things more simple instead of more difficult,” Monson added. “(A. Traore) did a great job of that.”
The opening eight minutes of the game set the tone for the night as Cal Poly missed 12 of its first 13 shots from the field. The Mustangs only had three points at the 12 minute mark of the first half and shot 27.6 percent from the field before halftime.
AJ George and Jadon Jones both hit early 3-pointers to give the Beach a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
George scored a team-high 15 points to go with three steals. Jones also had three steals while shutting down Cal Poly senior and former LBSU guard Chance Hunter, who finished the night 2-for-10 from the field. He went over 1,000 collegiate points in the game but only scored six points.
“I heard them talking to each other,” A. Traore said of Jones and Hunter, who played together at the Beach two years ago. “When you have a guy (Hunter) who was here before and talking bad about the team, you need to show him that it’s not what you think. We were champions last year for a reason.”
“We knew that was going to be a little personal,” Hunter added. “It was a pride thing for us. We’re not going to let him have his show coming back here.”
LBSU led 22-9 at the eight minute timeout and maintained its lead by getting into the lane and drawing fouls. The Beach finished with 38 points in the paint while making 17-of-25 free throws. LBSU led 36-21 at halftime.
Hunter and Traore pushed the ball after the break and a flurry of 3-pointers and transition buckets helped LBSU push its lead to as many as 27 points in the second half.
“That was a really good game for Tone because he’ll get to watch that tomorrow,” Monson said of Hunter. “He’s not the backup coming in to speed the game up, he’s your starter trying to control the game from start to finish. He’s done it his whole life. He’s a true point guard. He’s going to get better as his role changes. He just gets in trouble when he tries to do too much.”
“My first thing was just to get the W,” Hunter said. “Coach has been preaching ‘Wait your turn’ and unfortunately losing (Murray) was tough for us, but (coach) pulled me into the office and said, ‘We don’t have to wait until next year, we have to go right now.’ There’s obviously a lot to fill that role but watching (Murray) I got to see one of the best players I’ve been able to play with.”
LBSU got all 10 dressed out players onto the floor, including coach's son and walk-on freshman guard Maddox Monson.
“(Hunter) said he needed a breather and I looked down (the bench) and it was a process of elimination,” coach Monson joked after the game. “But I was proud of him. He’s a good team guy who will do anything and he’s coachable… except for the behind the back dribble. (Hunter) taught him that, and he turned it over.”
“We love him," Hunter said of Maddox Monson. "He’s an amazing teammate.”
This game was originally scheduled for Wednesday, but Cal Poly had travel issues due to the recent storms. It also means LBSU lost a day of travel before playing at Hawai'i on Saturday.
“We know (Cal Poly) is not a top team in the league, but we know Hawaii is so that was our midterm for the week and we have a final test on Saturday that we know will be a lot more difficult,” Monson said. “The guys are excited to go out and prove we can do that on a more consistent basis. Our best basketball is ahead, when (Murray and Tsohonis) get back or don’t get back or whatever we have. If we can defend like we did today and keep improving on that, we have a lot of ways offensively. I’m not worried about the offensive end. They’ve been worried about it and that’s the problem. But today they weren’t worried about it and they showed that.”