By Manny Nunez
Long Beach State took an 89-81 win over Hawaii on Thursday night in Long Beach as these two teams comprise a prorated total of six that look like they will fight for the Big West championship as the conference has moved forward in a big way this season.
The 49ers, coming in with a 6-10 record, have wins over Oregon State, Stanford, and the took Colorado State to the wire. Meanwhile, Hawaii’s 9-4 record includes a key win over Davidson in the Diamond Head Classic as both of these teams, especially the 49ers, shave navigated tough schedules in preparation for the Big West cage wars.
Long Beach State shot 63 percent from the floor and led by as many as 14 in the second half before icing the game with free throws as Deshaun Booker and Edon Maxhuni in the last minute for the win. Barry Ogalue led four 49ers in double figures with 21 points as was 9-of-10 from the floor in his 32 minutes.
“There is always a little more pressure when you start conference play at home,” 49ers head coach Dan Monson said. “Today was a big win for us. We got a good start to the game and our mindset was there. I was pleased that we won the rebounding battle and the paint.
Long Beach State scored at will in the mid-range game, which contributed in scoring 50 points in the paint. Hawaii countered, keeping themselves in the game going 41 percent from three as Brooke Stepteau scored nine of his game-high 19 points from behind the arc.
“It was great to see our offense click,” Monson said. “We had a number of guys contribute perfectly. I am not as disappointed in the points we scored as to how well aware we were with our shooting.”
— LBSU Mens Basketball (@LBSUhoops) January 5, 2018
Long Beach State had the upper hand in the second half, even with Gabe Levin and Temidayo Yussuf getting into foul trouble early. Without those two, they still Ogalue in the mid-range game taking over in scoring. They also forced Mike Thomas and Gibson Johnson, two of the top three players in scoring for the Warriors, to the bench early picking up four fouls in the first few minutes of the second half.
“I was going to go small but Barry made a difference,” Monson said. “He really gave us another paint presence, especially in the second half. We won’t have a dominant rebounding game, but our guards did their part athletically.”
Hawaii had strong spurts of offense from both Thomas and Johnson. When they were taken out of the game, the 49ers exposed them and forced a number of turnovers and rushed shots. Throughout the game the Warriors turned the ball over 16 times which led to 23 Long Beach State points.
“There are three things that we need to do to win games – defend, rebound, and take care of the ball. We went zero for three in that category,” Hawaii head coach Eran Ganot said. “That’s how you win on the road. We gave up the highest percentage in years. We turned it over a lot, and we were outrebounded. The big positive is that we were still in the game, and that is a good positive, because there is still a work in progress to be made, and it’s a good setback to be in because these can easily be corrected.
Last night’s game is a true showing as to how competitive this conference will be. Both teams received first place votes, with UC Davis receiving the most. Along with UC Santa Barbara and UC Irvine, each of these five schools could emerge to win the Big West regular season crown.