Men's Basketball, Sports

MCDANNALD: 49ers not settling for moral victories

ANAHEIM — There may as well be a recording playing when Long Beach State men’s basketball head coach Dan Monson delivers an opening statement after close defeats to NCAA Tournament-worthy opponents.

The fourth-year head coach did not settle after his team led wire-to-wire for 34 of 40 minutes at the Honda Center before falling, 82-74, to Saint Mary’s on Saturday afternoon in the John R. Wooden Classic.

“We have a disappointed locker room and I’m happy about that,” Monson said.

Shooting the ball, the 49ers (5-7) had the game won. They shot 52.7 percent (29-of-55) to the Gaels’ 50.8 percent (33-of-65). From 3-point range, where SMC (9-2) is particularly deadly, LBSU chased the Gaels off the line effectively and limited them to a 7-of-22 mark.

Despite a sub-par shooting performance from junior point guard Casper Ware, who was held scoreless in the first half, The Beach managed to go into the locker room with a 41-37 advantage. The ‘Niners finished with five players in double figures led by T.J. Robinson’s 19 points.

The difference, however, was SMC reserve Mitchell Young, who erupted for a game- and career-high 28 points on 13-of-18 from the field.

Head coach Randy Bennett and Young pinpointed the Gaels’ ability to exploit the 49ers’ defense, constantly slipping backdoor for easy layups en route to 48 points in the paint.

“We played off the mismatch after [LBSU] switched (on screens),” Bennett said.

Then, with exactly 6 minutes to play, Mickey McConnell drained a deep, rainbow 3-pointer to give SMC its first lead at 65-64. Monson called timeout, and the 49ers’ anger visibly set in as they walked to the bench.

For some mid-major programs, a narrow defeat to a Gaels squad that advanced to the Sweet 16 in last season’s NCAA Tournament would be a positive loss.

But not these 49ers.

After all, this is a team that faced the toughest nonconference schedule in the country last season. LBSU faced five top-25 teams, including Final Four participant West Virginia and national champion Duke. Throw in a narrow road loss at perennial powerhouse Kentucky, and the ‘Niners are more than battle tested.

Coming into the game, LBSU was fresh off a 96-91 loss against a talented North Carolina team. The 49ers also started the season with an 81-65 loss to San Diego State, which is now ranked 10th in the nation.

But for Monson and his team, it’s clear that some semblance of satisfaction will not set in unless a Big West Conference championship and elusive NCAA berth is secured.

This is the same man who did not find any solace last season when an inconsistent LBSU team reached the Big West tournament finals. In 10 days, the 49ers will attempt to jumpstart their road to redemption in the conference opener against the same UC Santa Barbara Gauchos who claimed the crown.


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