LBSU routs UC Riverside in convincing fashion

LONG BEACH — Long Beach State retained its spot at the top of the Big West standings in convincing fashion Saturday afternoon, blowing out UC Riverside 75-33 at the Pyramid, giving head coach Dan Monson a memorable 101st win.

The Beach (16-9, 12-2) dominated nearly every facet of the game, shooting 52.9 percent from the field and 46.2 from behind the arc while Highlanders made only 11-of-46 field goals and turned the ball over 18 times. It was one of the strongest defensive performances the 49ers have had all season.

It was the first time since 2004 that a 49er team held an opponent to less than 40 points and it was the third-lowest total for UC Riverside (5-20, 2-11) this season. The Highlanders scored 30 at Fresno state and 26 at USC in two December games.

“Riverside’s strength is controlling the tempo. They did that early in the game but slowly we were able to get some stops and some rebounds and get the pace up,” Monson said. “I don’t think we every trailed and that was a key.”

The 49ers feel as though they are playing the best defensive basketball they have all season.

“We’re getting more chemistry but I think we’re getting better on defense,” said point guard Mike Caffey. “We struggled more at the beginning of the season with defense. But now we’re getting stops each game and holding teams below 60.”

Tony Freeland led the game with 14 points and five rebounds, James Ennis scored 12 with four assists and three steals and Deng Deng had 10 points and five boards off the bench.

Long Beach’s bench exploded for 28 points, with Deng’s 10 leading the way.

“I saw the way the first unit exposed the weaknesses,” Deng said. “I haven’t been playing very well the last couple games so any shot I see I’m taking it.”

Taylor Johns led the Highlanders with 10 points and five rebounds while Josh Fox had seven points and six rebounds.

After a packed house was on hand to see Long Beach’s win over rival Cal State Fullerton Wednesday night, the follow up crowd for Saturday afternoon’s game was somewhat anticlimactic in comparison. An unseasonably warm day and a 4 p.m., start time didn’t favor the 49ers.

“You leave here (Wednesday night) and the place is electric and you walk in today and everybody is at the beach,” Monson said. “I told them at the tip, ‘You need to generate your own energy here.'”

James Ennis and Tony Freeland accepted the challenge. The front court duo entertained the crowd by showcasing nearly every dunk in their arsenals, and even combining for a couple big alley-oops.

Once the 49ers pushed past a slow start, an 11-5 run closed the first half and left the Highlanders trailing 31-19 at the half.

Long Beach then continued to pull away in the second half, going up by 19 with around 13 minutes left when UC Riverside’s Steven Jones retaliated. Jones threw down a massive jam, posturizing over his defender to make the score 47-30.   

But Deng then spotted up for a three, bringing The Beach back up to a 20-point lead and The Beach rode a 22-2 run to the finish, winning its 25th-straight home Big West game.