With a couple of No. 14 Xavier’s top weapons still missing, Long Beach State knew who it needed to stop.
Freshman Michael Caffey scored a career-high 14 points and Long Beach State defeated short-handed Xavier 68-58 in the opening round of the Diamond Head Classic on Thursday night.
It was Long Beach State’s fifth ranked opponent this season, and second victory over one. The 49ers beat Pitt and have lost to Louisville, Kansas and North Carolina.
”We pulled it off,” said Caffey, one of five players in double figures for the 49ers (6-5), who handed the Musketeers (8-2) their second straight loss since a bench-clearing brawl Dec. 10 against Cincinnati that resulted in the suspension of four players.
Caffey was joined by Casper Ware, Larry Anderson and Eugene Phelps, who each had 12 points. T.J. Robinson added 11 points and five rebounds.
The 49ers advanced to Friday’s semifinal and will face the winner of the Hawaii-Auburn matchup scheduled for later Thursday night.
Long Beach State used aggressive defense and kept heavy pressure on Xavier’s star point guard, Tu Holloway, who returned from a one-game suspension and finished with 17 points and four assists in 40 minutes.
”We knew we had to get to Holloway and get the ball out of his hands,” Caffey said.
Long Beach State coach Dan Monson said Caffey was ”huge.”
”Casper was drawing so much attention and he was having to guard Tu Holloway on the other end. That’s a lot to ask for one guy,” Monson said. ”Mike came in and was able to lighten the load off of him. … I thought Mike was a big key to the game.”
The Musketeers had Holloway back but Xavier was without starting guard Mark Lyons, starting forward Dez Wells and reserve Landen Amos. Lyons is eligible to return Friday, while Wells and Amos will miss the tournament while serving their four-game suspensions.
The loss of firepower showed.
The Musketeers started out slow and sloppy, going several minutes without a basket as Holloway faced constant double-teams.
”That’s nothing new. But when he doesn’t have a couple of running mates that take a little pressure off and are able to get to the rim easier maybe than the guys we have on the floor tonight, that’s the game plan,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said. ”But hopefully as we start to welcome these other guys back, we’ll be a little tougher team than to key on one guy on the perimeter.”
After a close first half, Long Beach State took control in the second. The 49ers came out after the break with a 12-4 run to take a 41-25 lead. Ware had six points during the surge.
”I think the first 4 minutes out of half, they score 11 points. You can’t do that,” Mack said. ”That’s 110 points at that rate. We’ve got to be better out of halftime and we weren’t.”
The 49ers then went up 63-45 on Ware’s 3-pointer with 3:11 remaining. Xavier, using a full-court press, clawed back, scoring three straight baskets, but couldn’t cut Long Beach State’s lead to single digits.
Holloway started finding his groove after Caffey’s 3-pointer that pushed Long Beach State’s lead back to 16 with 14:08 left. Holloway dropped a tough fadeaway and fed Andre Walker and Travis Taylor on two layups to cut the 49ers’ lead to 10, drawing a quick timeout from Mack.
Holloway then stripped Ware near midcourt and took it to the basket, cutting the 49ers’ lead to 46-38 with 11:19 left. But the Musketeers never got any closer.
Long Beach State struggled from the stripe, hitting just 54 percent of its free throws, which kept Xavier in the game.
Justin Martin’s 3-pointer with 16:07 left in the first half gave Xavier a 9-6 lead – its last of the game.
The Musketeers didn’t score again until Holloway’s step-back, fadeaway jumper from 18 feet about 7 1/2 minutes later that that cut the deficit to 16-11. Long Beach State went on a 9-0 run during that stretch capped by a three-point play by Phelps.
Martin finished with 12 points for Xavier.
Xavier center Kenny Frease, who needed seven stitches below his left eye after being punched by Cincinnati’s Yancy Gates during the brawl, picked up two early fouls and played just 9 minutes in the first half. He finished with 10 points and one rebound.