Long Beach State stuns No. 9 Pittsburgh 86-76

Long Beach State coach Dan Monson helped turn Gonzaga into a

national power more than a decade ago by challenging anyone,

anywhere at any time.

He’s kept the same philosophy with the 49ers, although without

the same spectacular results.

Until now.

Casper Ware scored a career-high 28 points and Long Beach State

raced by No. 9 Pittsburgh 86-76 on Wednesday night, the program’s

first win over a top-10 team in nearly 20 years.

”It’s a big win but we expected to win this,” Ware said.

”Everybody in the locker room knew we were going to win this

game.”

Maybe because Monson told his players they would when practice

started last month.

Long Beach State (2-0) has put together the toughest

nonconference schedule in the country in each of the last two

seasons, and this one is no different.

Wednesday night’s game was the start of a brutal stretch that

includes trips to defending Mountain West champion San Diego State,

No. 8 Louisville, No. 12 Kansas, No. 1 North Carolina along with a

showdown in Hawaii against No. 13 Xavier three days before

Christmas.

It’s how to make a name for yourself as a mid-major. Only Monson

has grown tired of the act and he let his team know it.

”I told `em the first meeting of the year that playing this

schedule is unacceptable,” he said. ”It’s time for this team to

stop playing the toughest schedule and start competing against the

toughest schedule.”

So far, so very good.

Long Beach State became just the second non-Big East team to win

at the Petersen Events Center and the first nonconference opponent

to knock off the Panthers at home in November and December since

the gym opened in 2002.

”We got beat every which way,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon

said.

Repeatedly.

James Ennis added 19 points and Larry Anderson had 12 points and

seven assists for the 49ers (2-0), who relentlessly attacked the

Panthers.

”All teams, they try to do a lot to stop us from running, but

we were just too fast today,” Ware said. ”We were clicking on

offense and it was too fast (for them) to stop us.”

Ashton Gibbs led Pitt (2-1) with 20 points and Nasir Robinson

added 19, but the Panthers simply couldn’t keep up with the

49ers.

”They wanted it more than us,” Robinson said. ”They worked

harder. They ran harder. They got to loose balls. They executed

better than us. They outsmarted us.”

Mostly, they outplayed the Panthers.

Long Beach State took a nine-point halftime lead and never let

up.

Pitt drew within six points on a few occasions but each time the

49ers answered to become the first non-Big East team to beat the

Panthers at home since Bucknell in 2005.

The victory was Long Beach State’s first over a top-10 team

since beating then-No. 1 Kansas on Jan. 25, 1993, when most of the

current 49ers were in diapers.

This was no fluke, however.

Long Beach State never trailed after taking the lead less than 8

minutes in, attacking Pitt from the opening tip. If Ware wasn’t

knocking down 3-pointers, he, Ennis and Anderson were splitting

Pitt’s zone and finding open teammates.

The 49ers shot 59 percent from the floor, collected 24 assists

on 32 baskets and turned it over just 10 times, beating the

Panthers both outside and inside.

Long Beach State went out and played like it, outscoring Pitt

25-5 on the break and 48-31 in the paint, even slightly

out-rebounding the bigger, stronger defending Big East regular

season champions.

Dixon has preached patience while his team searches for a new

identity behind Gibbs, the Big East preseason player of the

year.

The Panthers looked lethargic at times in a win over Rider on

Sunday. Dixon stressed the need to get more tenacious on defense, a

hallmark of the program since he replaced Ben Howland in 2003.

There’s still plenty to work on. Long Beach State wasn’t

intimidated by the long cross-country trip, the late tipoff or one

of the country’s toughest places to play.

Pitt has been practically unbeatable at ”the Pete” against

nonconference foes. Most of the wins have been laughers. When asked

to answer the bell for the first time this season, the Panthers

responded too late.

Pitt’s best chance to get back in it came on back-to-back

3-pointers by Travon Woodall and Gibbs that pulled the Panthers to

62-56. The 49ers responded with a pull-up from Edis Dervisevic and

a steal and dunk by Ennis, who flexed after flushing it to push the

lead back to 10.

The Panthers crept within six twice more but couldn’t get key

stops.

”We knew they were very good and we wanted to play someone very

good,” Dixon said. ”They’re an experienced team. I had

anticipated us being a much better team this time and, obviously,

we’re not where I’d like us to be.”

The 49ers, by contrast, are right on schedule.

Confidence grew with each basket and by the time the horn

sounded all Pitt could do is trudge off the floor as the shouts of

about two dozen Long Beach State supporters echoed throughout the

quiet arena.