Much has been made of Long Beach State playing five non-conference opponents who were ranked in the Top 15 of the major preseason polls. Many wondered how Dan Monson's team would navigate such a slate in spite of the fact that this experienced group went through a similar schedule last season. If Wednesday night showed anything about the 49ers it's that they're ready for the challenge, as they handed Pittsburgh its' first loss in November or December at the Petersen Events Center in the history of the arena.
Casper Ware scored a career-high 28 points and James Ennis led three other starters in double figures with 19 points as Long Beach State won 86-76. Ashton Gibbs led four Pittsburgh starters in double figures with 20 points, but it wasn't enough on a night that saw Long Beach State shoot 58% from the field and the Pitt reserves manage to score just three points. Things were bad enough that the Panthers, known for years for their tough man-to-man defense, went zone in hopes of slowing down the 49ers. No such luck on this night.
"We did not plan to play zone that much, we hoped we defended better," said Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon. "The man didn't work that well and zone didn't work very well either. Bottom line, it was the transition baskets that were killing us."
Long Beach State was able to get out on the break (25 fast-break points) on many occasions, and they were unselfish as well. Twenty-four of Long Beach State's 32 field goals were of the assisted variety, with Larry Anderson (seven assists), Ennis (six) and Ware (six) accounting for at least six assists each. As a result The Beach made 69.4% of their two-point shots while Pitt made 43.7% of theirs.
To use the word "upset" in labeling this performance could result in not realizing what happened in Pittsburgh. There was no luck or gimmicks on display. Long Beach State simply was the better basketball team, and they left with the ultimate reward as a result. But don't expect the 49ers to rest on this victory, because you're only as good as your last result. Wednesday's win is just one small step in the direction of their most important goal, one they didn't accomplish a season ago despite winning the Big West regular season title by a comfortable margin.
"We're going to enjoy this, and it's great for a mid-major because we'll be recognized a little bit," said Monson. "This group hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament yet and I think we would trade this for that. That goal at the end of the year is not attained in one game. We have a lot of work ahead of us."
Other Notable Happenings
1. Indiana picks up the second true road win of the Tom Crean era with a comfortable win at Evansville.
The cynic will ask what the big deal about a 94-73 win at Evansville is, but those who have followed the Indiana program in recent years know full well how important the outcome is. Verdell Jones III led five Hoosiers in double figures with 17 points (and seven assists) and the Hoosiers assisted on 24 of their 33 field goals while shooting 55.9% from the field. The Hoosiers held a 40-20 advantage in points in the paint and they led by as many as 33 points in the second half in their best all-around performance in quite some time. There are steps that need to be taken in the rebuilding of a program, especially when said program has fallen to the depths that Indiana's plummeted to in the aftermath of the Kelvin Sampson era. With the influx of young talent (Cody Zeller and company this year, a highly-touted 2012 class on the way) combined with veterans who took the bumps at the start of the Crean tenure Indiana looks to be on their way.
2. Creighton snaps UAB's 38-game non-conference home win streak.
UAB waited a bit longer than most teams in the country to play their first game of the season, and one has to wonder if in hindsight they wish their game with Creighton came later in the schedule. The Bluejays held the Blazers without a field goal over the final 11:21 of the first half to take a 32-25 lead into the intermission, and Doug McDermott's 27 points led the way in a 70-60 win in Birmingham. Antoine Young scored 13 points and Grant Gibbs added seven rebounds and seven assists (no turnovers) for Creighton, who moves to 3-0 in advance of their game against Iowa on Saturday. Creighton scored 20 points off of 18 UAB turnovers, and despite a career-high seven blocks by Cameron Moore the Blazers were still outscored 40-22 in the paint. The Bluejays did this with Jahenns Manigat missing all eight of his shots from the field, and McDermott and Gregory Echenique finished the game with five turnovers apiece. And they're going to get better as the season wears on, which is good news for Creighton fans.
3. New Mexico State lands the first blow in the two-part series with rival New Mexico.
The rivalry between New Mexico and New Mexico State is an interesting one, not only because of them sharing a state but more importantly because they play a home-and-home every year. Marvin Menzies' team landed the first punch on Wednesday night, beating the preseason Mountain West favorites 62-53 in front of a packed house at The Pit. The problem for New Mexico: leading scorers Drew Gordon and Kendall Williams combined to shoot a putrid 0-for-13 from the field, and as a team New Mexico shot 19% from the field in the second half. Wendell McKines led the Aggies with 14 points and nine rebounds and Bandja Sy added 12 off the bench, and New Mexico State's size proved to be problematic for the Lobos in the final 20 minutes (16-0 NMSU points in the paint). The rematch is on December 28th in Las Cruces, and given how physical the first round was (52 combined fouls) look for Round Two to offer more of the same.
1. Saturday will deliver a matchup of two of the hotter scorers in the country as Texas (J'Covan Brown) takes on Oregon State (Jared Cunningham). Cunningham led the Beavers to an 82-72 win over Hofstra with 35 points, and center Joe Burton dropped an assists (11)/rebounds (10) double-double.
2. Don't bother attempting to hold a vigorous debate over who's the worst team in a BCS AQ league. The answer is Utah, who went to Boise State and ended up on the receiving end of an 80-59 beating. It's going to be a long season for first-year head coach Larry Krystowiak.
3. No Eric Atkins (sick) or Tim Abromaitis (NCAA suspension) for Notre Dame but it didn't matter much in their 74-41 win over Sam Houston State. Freshman Pat Connaughton led the way with 24 points off the bench while Jerian Grant was all over the box score with 17 points, seven assists, six rebounds and two steals.
4. NAIA school Philander Smith scored a big victory, knocking off Central Arkansas 97-90 in Conway. What's the bigger concern for Central Arkansas head coach Corliss Williamson: the mere fact that the Bears lost, or the fact that they allowed 97 points and turned the ball over 23 times?
5. Freshman guard Cezar Guerrero saved Oklahoma State, scoring six of his 29 points in a five-second span to tie their game with UTSA in regulation, and the Cowboys went on to win 90-85 in overtime. Guerrero made eight three-pointers while Le'Bryan Nash added 18 and nine rebounds, and Travis Ford will call on these freshmen quite often this season.
Three Notable Performances
1. G Jared Cunningham (Oregon State)
35 points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals in the Beavers' 82-72 win over Hofstra.
2. G Tim Frazier (Penn State)
26 points, 10 assists and five rebounds in the Nittany Lions' 77-68 win over Long Island.
3. G Casper Ware (Long Beach State)
28 points and six assists in the 49ers' 86-76 win at #9 Pittsburgh.