Short-handed 49ers stay perfect at home

What a weekend.

It began Thursday afternoon with the Long Beach State athletic department announcing it had suspended men’s basketball seniors Kejuan Johnson and Mark Dawson because of eligibility issues prior to coming to LBSU. An assistant coach, Reggie Howard, was also suspended because of issues related to recruitment of prospective student-athletes during the summer of 2005.

With two of its key players on the bench in street clothes, LBSU still went on to win two critical home games.

The 49ers (15-6, 6-2) beat Cal State Northridge 79-72 Thursday night, and then on Saturday evening in front 1,969 spectators at The Walter Pyramid, LBSU had one of its most impressive wins of the year, revenging last year’s Big West conference championship loss to Pacific, beating the Tigers 92-64. LBSU is now 10-0 at The Walter Pyramid this season.

The two victories, plus UC Riverside’s upset win over Cal State Fullerton (16-5, 6-3) Saturday night, puts LBSU at the top of the Big West standings.

“We are not at full strength, but we feel like we have a pretty deep team,” said LBSU head coach Larry Reynolds. “We have asked players to step up and they have responded.”

No player stepped up more than Sterling Byrd. The 6-foot-6 swingman led LBSU in scoring in both wins, scoring 23 points against Northridge and 22 against Pacific. Byrd hit 50 percent of 3-point shots in both games.

Point guard Kevin Houston was even more impressive from behind the arc. After going 2-for-5 on 3s against Northridge, Houston was even better against Pacific, going 4-for-5 on 3-pointers. He continues to lead the team with an impressive .427 3-point percentage this season.

“My confidence to shoot the ball is as high as it has ever been,” Houston said.

Against Northridge (10-12, 3-6), LBSU looked a little out of sync in the first half, holding a slim 41-40 lead at the half.

In the second half, LBSU attacked the rim with more regularity, and an aggressive Northridge team continually committed fouls, sending the 49ers to the foul line. LBSU hit 20 of its 28 second half free-throws, which propelled the team to the seven-point win.

Against Pacific (8-13, 4-4), LBSU did everything right. The 49ers shot 57.1 percent from the field, 45.8 percent on 3-pointers, held Pacific to a 44.2 shooting percentage and had only five turnovers in the game.

After leading 40-29 at halftime, LBSU went on a 16-1 run to start the second half to essentially put the game away.

“The guys played well tonight,” Reynolds said after his team beat Pacific for the first time since the 2002-03 season. “Everything seemed to go our way.”

Reynolds didn’t comment on the recent suspensions, and the athletic department’has yet to announce how long the players and assistant coach will be out for.

According to LBSU spokesman Toni Beron, the NCAA has been investigating the program since either late October or early November.

In an e-mail statement from Athletic Director Vic Cegles sent last Thursday, he said, “We are taking these proactive steps while working closely with the NCAA as they continue to inquire about these issues.”

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