Basketball Long Beach State

Long Beach State Men’s Basketball Upsets UC Irvine In Overtime

The562’s coverage of Long Beach State athletics for the 2022-23 season is sponsored by Marilyn Bohl.

Lessons from the school of hard knocks are paying dividends for Long Beach State men’s basketball.

After starting the Big West Conference schedule with a handful of close losses, and a season-ending injury for star guard Joel Murray, the Beach is now riding the emotional wave of a six-game winning streak thanks to a 93-88 comeback overtime win over UC Irvine on Saturday at Walter Pyramid.

“We were a different team (with Murray) and this team needed to get a different identity and we’re starting to gather that,” LBSU coach Dan Monson said. “We’re a better team than we were a month ago. We all know it’s how you finish to be a great team in college basketball.”

LBSU’s Jadon Jones filled the stat sheet with 10 points, three steals, two assists and three blocks (two in overtime) and he thinks the support from a good home crowd of 2,361 helped his team play like themselves.

“I think we’ve always been an emotional team, it just took time for us to learn how to win so we can let it out,” Jones said. “You can’t go celebrate with the crowd and be emotional when we’re having breakdowns or missing shots and not getting back. Now everyone is playing for the betterment of the team and not just themselves. When you have group success you want to celebrate with the fans.”

Marcus Tsohonis led LBSU with a game-high 28 points and five assists while Lassina Traore recorded his sixth consecutive double-double with 16 points and 20 rebounds. He helped the Beach score 46 points in the paint, and is a huge reason why LBSU came into Saturday ranked No. 2 in the NCAA with over 40 rebounds per game. Traore also said the crowd, and especially the packed student section, lifted his team.

“They push us to play better,” he said. “The energy was great at the end of the game and it helped us get the W— so after the win we all got together to celebrate.”

The entire LBSU team went over to the students after the game, and guard Tone Hunter even leapt into the front row.

The562.org on Twitter: “FINAL (OT)LBSU 93, UC Irvine 88This Beach team just keeps getting better in clutch moments and upsets the Anteaters. Then Tone Hunter went for the Pyramid Plunge! pic.twitter.com/naxt1FuEou / Twitter”

FINAL (OT)LBSU 93, UC Irvine 88This Beach team just keeps getting better in clutch moments and upsets the Anteaters. Then Tone Hunter went for the Pyramid Plunge! pic.twitter.com/naxt1FuEou

“We just wanted to show appreciation,” Jones added. “Playing against good teams like that, it’s a war out there. When the final buzzer rings and you’re on top you just want to let the emotion out. It’s a release.”

LBSU (14-10, 8-4) only led for 5:53 of the game and trailed by as many as 13 points in the second half.

“This has been an evolving team and we had a great week of getting better,” Monson said. “This game couldn’t have been scripted any better for us as far as having so much adversity, opportunities to cave in, chances to lose and not accepting any of them. That’s how you go from a good team to a great team. We’re making strides.”

UC Irvine (15-8, 8-3) got 23 points from Dawson Baker and a double-double 10 points and 10 assists from Pierre Crockrell II. DJ Davis finished with 19 points after going 7-for-7 from the free throw line while Devin Tillis chipped in 12 points and nine rebounds.

LBSU forward Aboubacar Traore had 16 points and four assists and helped his team outrebound UCI 50-31.

The Anteaters scored half of their early points off turnovers and led 26-19 at the eight-minute media timeout.

Meanwhile, LBSU started the game out of synch while missing 12 of their first 15 shots. The Beach finished the half strong as AJ George found Tsohonis for an And-1 finish, A. Traore dished to L. Traore for an easy layup and Jones hit a 3-pointer before L. Traore beat the halftime buzzer with a fadeaway jump shot.

UC Irvine led 36-35 at halftime, but built its lead again by scoring the first nine points of the second half while going on a 14-3 run that resulted in the biggest lead of the game 53-40 with about 16 minutes to play.

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With about 14 minutes on the clock, Jones changed the game with two steals on consecutive possessions that led to easy breakaway buckets. George's And-1 then cut the lead to 55-52, and it stayed close the rest of the way, but LBSU didn’t tie the game until there was about three minutes to play when Tsohonis got into the lane for a teardrop that made it 70-70.

The rest of the game devolved into a physical free throw contest worthy of the Black & Blue rivalry moniker. There was a stretch in the second half where both teams went more than four minutes without a made field goal. Tsohonis and Jones combined to go 11-for-13 from the charity stripe. LBSU was 29-for-37 as a team.

LBSU only made 4 of its 12 attempts from 3-point range but the fourth and final make was Tobias Rotegaard, who came off the bench to tie it 78-78 with 26 seconds on the clock.

The562.org on Twitter: "LBSU 78, UCI 782nd Half 26.7Tobias Rotegaard for threeeeeeee filmed from the Beach student section pic.twitter.com/aN1HkHpz7I / Twitter"

LBSU 78, UCI 782nd Half 26.7Tobias Rotegaard for threeeeeeee filmed from the Beach student section pic.twitter.com/aN1HkHpz7I

It looked like UCI would win the game on the free throw line when Baker put his team up 80-78 with 4.3 seconds on the clock after an off-ball foul. However, LBSU took a timeout to get the right personnel on the floor.

Hunter, who spent most of the second half on the bench, came back on to take the inbounds pass coast-to-coast and draw a foul at the bucket with 0.6 remaining. He calmly hit both to force overtime.

Monson thinks taking an early timeout in the second half to calm his team down was key to their ability to erase multiple double-digit deficits.

“This team can’t win trading baskets,” Monson said. “We have to score off of steals or deflections or stops. This is not a great execution team. If we have to execute in the half court that doesn’t bode well for us. We’re getting better at it, and we executed today maybe better than we have in any other game.”

The teams traded buckets and the score was tied 85-85 with less than two minutes left when L. Traore came up with a blocked shot on the defensive end, and his missed layup at the other end was put back up through foul contact by A. Traore. The resulting free throw gave LBSU the lead for good 88-85. Tsohonis and L. Traore made free throws down the stretch to secure the victory.

“Both teams played their guts out and were tired,” Monson said. “But when you’ve got a crowd like that you don’t feel the fatigue like they were. When Baker missed that big free throw he had his hands on his knees and he was tired. I don’t think he misses that if that game isn’t here. It’s about effort when it comes to overtime and our guys were able to dig down and find that little bit extra today.”

Jones reiterated that extra energy comes from the crowd, no matter who they’re rooting for.

“Crowds are amazing to play in front of on both sides,” Jones said. “Like at Fullerton (this week) when it was an away crowd, we took it more personally. Here at home we feed off that energy. Playing in front of a crowd is one of the joys of playing this kind of basketball. We enjoy it and we love crowds and we feed off of it on both sides.”

LBSU is now bunched up in a race for third place behind UC Irvine and conference-leading UC Santa Barbara. The Beach travels to UCSB next week.

“It’s all still ahead of us and we like where we’re heading,” Monson said. “We can’t take any detours, we’ve already had some flat tires, but we just need to keep driving down this road to get better.”


PHOTOS: Long Beach State vs. UC Irvine, NCAA Basketball
JJ Fiddler
JJ Fiddler is an award-winning sportswriter and videographer who has been covering Southern California sports for multiple newspapers and websites since 2004. After attending Long Beach State and creating the first full sports page at the Union Weekly Newspaper, he has been exclusively covering Long Beach prep sports since 2007.