Long Beach State Takes Advantage of Rare Home Game vs. Power 5

Posted by Tracy McDannald on November 22nd, 2014

Non-conference scheduling can be a funny game in itself in college basketball, and a tough one if you are a quality mid-major program like Long Beach State. Head coach Dan Monson recalled how tough it has been to get schools in the Power 5 conferences to visit the Walter Pyramid in his eight seasons at the helm. In fact, before Friday night, just two other high-major programs — North Carolina in 2012 and USC in 2013 — have visited The Beach. So, Monson typically loads up the schedule with a Murderer’s Row gauntlet, compiling arguably the nation’s toughest road slate each year.

Dan Monson Has Long Beach State Playing Excellent Basketball

Dan Monson Was Grateful For Kansas State’s Willingness to Travel.

On the other end of that scheduling tango is a program like Kansas State, which faced the 49ers twice in games separated by just a week last season (once in Manhattan, Kansas and the other in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off) and came away with victories on both occasions. But the third time would be Long Beach State’s charm in a wire-to-wire, 69-60 decision in front of a jazzed up 4,256 fans.

And that is exactly why programs such as Kansas State, which was picked to finish fourth in the Big 12 Conference and are expected to be an on-the-bubble NCAA tournament team, do not often travel for true road games against mid-majors. The alternative is usually to pay the smaller school for what is known in the coaching circle as a “guarantee game,” and serve up a healthy beatdown in the process. In the past, Monson has even said that his aggressive non-conference scheduling will inevitably come with a pop in the mouth on most nights and its purpose is to toughen his team for Big West Conference play.

But this night wasn’t a trip to a powerhouse like Arizona or Kentucky; this night was on the 49ers’ home floor and his players channeled the energy positively, which wasn’t always the case in the handful of past signature home games. The building blocks of Monson’s previous years included some gems like ex-Big West Player of the Year Casper Ware, but now he is bringing in transfers like senior guard Tyler Lamb, formerly of UCLA. Lamb is someone who is used to playing against some of the more high-profile programs, and that can only make scheduling more difficult now.

“There’s a bunch of Power 5 conferences that we’ve tried for the last eight years to get to come in here,” said Monson, who added that his time at Minnesota in the Big Ten with Bruce Weber (ex-Illinois head coach) helped put the game together.

And Weber has already taken some hits for scheduling Long Beach State (Exhibit A and Exhibit B), particularly with the Maui Invitational coming up next for Kansas State. Some may call it a trap game. But Weber stood by the decision, saying, “You could say, ‘Why did you come here and play?’ I think it’s good for our team. Find out what our team’s about early. If you think you’re good enough and going to compete in the league, you’ve got to win road games.”

It wasn’t the prettiest game, either, as the teams combined for 33 turnovers and the stars for both programs didn’t churn out their typical stat lines. But the 49ers capitalized on the Wildcats’ 0-of-9 start from the field (32.8 percent for the game) and managed to put three players in double figures, including a game-high 14 points off the bench from Branford Jones and a double-double from David Samuels. Powered by Samuels’ 10 points and 10 rebounds, the Long Beach State frontcourt tandem with Eric McKnight in the middle proved to be too athletic, and Weber elected to play starter Stephen Hurt just 12 minutes against the smaller lineup.

The schedule will not get any easier for either program. Next up on Long Beach State’s slate will be Sunday’s showdown at UCLA, which has eclipsed 100 points in two of its first three games and produced 84 points in the other game of a 3-0 start to the season. Kansas State, meanwhile, will open the Maui Invitational with Purdue on Monday and may see #2 Arizona in the following round. But that’s the beast of non-conference college basketball, both good and bad.

Tracy McDannald (18 Posts)

Tracy McDannald spent the last three years covering the Arizona Wildcats. Baseball ends when college basketball is getting ready to begin, and vice versa. Coincidence? Nope, just perfect.

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