Enjoying life in 3-point land

“We are going to shoot the three.”

That is what Long Beach State men’s basketball head coach Larry Reynolds said after the first game of the season, a 69-68 loss to Air Force on Nov. 14.

A veteran reporter at the post game press conference followed up the remark, asking if LBSU is going to shoot 3-pointers even when they are struggling from behind the arc, like they had that night.

“We are going to shoot the three,” Reynolds reiterated.

A little bit more than half way through the season, it is clear Reynolds wasn’t joking.

I can’t stand sports clichés. I cringe whenever someone on ESPN says, “pitching wins championships,” “they have to establish the run” or “you got to make your free throws.” But every now and then sports clichés have some truth to them and for the LBSU basketball team, a cliché describes the squad’s brand of basketball perfectly: you either live or die with the three.

While the rest of us were on break sleeping, or at least that’s what I was doing, Long Beach State was raining in 3-pointers and in doing so racking up the wins.

Going into last Thursday’s matchup with UC Irvine, LBSU has won 11 of its last 12 games, posting a 13-5 record, and the 49ers stand at the top of the Big West standings at 4-1. For the first time in the Reynolds era, LBSU is the odds on favorite to win the Big West and go to the NCAA Tournament.

Why is this team the best LBSU men’s basketball team of the millennium?

Yes, they have good senior leadership (another cliché) and the defense is much improved over last year, but more than anything, they shoot the 3-point shot with incredible proficiency.

Overall this season LBSU is shooting an ordinary .355 from 3-point land, but in the last 12 games the 49ers are shooting a phenomenal .411 from behind the arc. For the non-basketball fan, a .411 3-point percentage is like a 3.8 GPA. It is really good.

The biggest win over the winter break, and for that matter the season, was LBSU’s 95-85 win over Cal State Fullerton in front of 2,178 people at The Walter Pyramid on Jan. 18.

LBSU won the game because of its long range shooting, going 11-for-21 on 3-pointers, and Aaron Nixon was lights out, hitting five of his seven 3-point shots. The Titans best player, Bobby Brown, was just 3-for-10 from behind the arc.

What makes the 49ers such a dangerous 3-point shooting team is they don’t depend on one, two or even three shooters, but four of their five starters can consistently hit 3-pointers.

Seniors Nixon, Kejuan Johnson, Kevin Houston and Sterling Byrd are all capable of catching on fire on any given night which it makes it very difficult for opposing teams to shut all of them down.

Houston’s shooting is the biggest surprise. In his first three seasons at The Beach, Houston could be clichéd as a pure point guard, a distributor not a shooter. Last season, Houston shot a below average .317 on 3s and the year before a dreadful .141.

But this year the 5-foot-10 guard is leading the team from behind the arc, shooting a .419 percentage.

Even with all of their quality shooters it doesn’t always guarantee 3-point success.

In LBSU’s only blemish on the record in the last seven weeks, the 49ers fell to Cal State Northridge 93-80. LBSU chucked up 32 3-pointers in the game but made only 10.

By the law of averages, the 49ers are going to have the occasional off night like they did against Northridge. Hopefully it won’t happen in the Big West Tournament, when the games will really count.

Two Wednesday’s ago, around noon, only two people were on The Pyramid floor. It was LBSU’s 6-foot-6 forward Byrd and an assistant coach fetching rebounds for him. Byrd wasn’t practicing layups, hook shots or midrange jumpers. For nearly an hour, he was shooting 3-pointer after 3-pointer after 3-pointer.

He was doing what he should have been doing, because if LBSU is going to hear its name on Selection Sunday, it will have to continue to hit its shots from behind the arc.

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