The562’s coverage of Long Beach State athletics for the 2022-23 season is sponsored by Marilyn Bohl.
It’s no secret that Long Beach State men’s basketball has had trouble finishing games.
The Beach has lost six one-possession games in the final minutes, including a pair of last-second Big West losses, but they stopped that streak from getting to seven by pulling away late and beating Cal State Fullerton 72-67 in conference action on Thursday night at Walter Pyramid.
“It’s having an identity and just trusting in what we’re doing,” LBSU guard Jadon Jones said. “Great teams learn how to win. You can be good throughout the whole game but if you don’t know how to win it’s all for nothing. We’re learning how to win, play as a unit and just pull out wins down the stretch. It’s good to build some momentum and carry that to the next game.”
LBSU (9-10, 3-4) is currently seventh in the Big West and three games back of first place. The Beach continues its conference schedule on Saturday at UC San Diego. The Tritons beat LBSU last month on an overtime buzzer beater.
“I feel like the past games we weren’t winning because of our defense, but in the past couple days in practice our main focus has been defense,” LBSU forward Lassina Traore said. “And on offense we were sharing and spreading that ball to all sides of the court.”
L. Traore recorded his ninth double-double of the season with 16 points and 16 rebounds. Guard Marcus Tsohonis returned from injury to score a team-high 17 points and Jones chipped in 13 points. More impressively, the LBSU defense limited Fullerton to 36 percent shooting while out-rebounding the Titans 49-29. LBSU forward Aboubacar Traore finished with eight points, 13 rebounds and five assists.
“(Lassina and Aboubacar) were just men among boys on the boards today,” LBSU coach Dan Monson said. “We had two guys with detergent and windex all over the boards. (Lassina) was really disciplined defensively on the switches and not fouling after getting two fouls early. This is his first real year playing Division 1 basketball and I thought he was tremendous and was the difference.”
This game is the first time the old rivals have met since Fullerton beat LBSU in the 2022 Big West Tournament Championship game, and that was not lost on the Beach.
“We definitely used it as motivation,” Jones said. “Some games are personal, and that game was a little more personal considering the results from last year. But at the end of the day we know we’re going to be hunted because of what happened last year. But all we can do is be Long Beach.”
LBSU was also motivated by a raucous crowd of 2,354 including a packed student section that was led by Dirtbags players in the front row.
“It was amazing and they really brought the energy and they pushed us to play better,” L. Traore said.
“It’s definitely great and having a crowd like that brings much needed energy,” Jones added. “It’s hard to lose in front of a crowd like that, especially in Long Beach and a city that’s committed to the team. It added motivation and we love our fans and we don’t want to let them down.”
A. Traore and the Beach came out of the gates quickly with the sophomore forward sparking a 7-1 run to open the game. As was the case all night, Fullerton had an answer to the run and a Daeshawn Eaton 3-pointer put the Titans up 13-11.
The old rivals would trade the lead seven times in the first 10 minutes until John Mikey Square found some space in the paint for a run of easy buckets and a 24-21 Fullerton lead at the 10 minute mark.
L. Traore delivered a block and consecutive buckets to get the Beach back in front 25-24. Those points sparked an 11-2 run that saw Fullerton go more than six minutes without a field goal. A Tobias Rotegaard 3-pointer capped the run and had LBSU up 32-26 with about four minutes left until halftime.
Fullerton (10-10, 4-4) was able to cut the lead to 40-37 at halftime. Jalen Harris scored a game-high 18 points for the Titans while Max Jones chipped in 13 points and five assists. Grayson Carper was also key coming off the bench and making all four of his 3-point attempts.
LBSU led for over 30 minutes of the game, but Fullerton stayed close by creating 19 turnovers and scoring 15 points off the miscues.
However, Tsohonis scored some very important points from the free throw line down the stretch to keep the Beach in front. He finished 9-for-10 from the charity stripe. LBSU was 12-for-14 as a team.
The Beach led 65-63 with 2:15 to play when AJ George found L. Traore for a layup, and then Traore came ups with a big block at the other end.
“Today we had a couple of bad possessions at the end of the game offensively, and in other games that broke us,” Monson said. “We’d go down and panic and try to make a steal or reach and foul. I felt really good with our defensive vibe and confidence and trust. (Fullerton) had a couple opportunities at the end and we made them take tough shots.
LBSU limited Fullerton to only 30 points in the second half.
“I think we’re getting better,” Monson added. I think this is the first game in (Big West) that we were substantially better on defense in the second half. Our guys weren’t over helping and rotating well. This team needs confidence in winning without outscoring people. Today they were able to do that. They were able to win with defense and rebounding.”