LBSU shocks No. 9 Pitt behind Ware’s career-night
Men’s basketball team ends 20-game losing streak against ranked opponents.
The Long Beach State men’s basketball team killed two birds with one stone Wednesday night.
The 49ers snapped a 20-game losing streak to ranked opponents and broke No. 9-ranked Pittsburgh’s 58-contest winning streak at home against nonconference teams.
Behind a career-high 28 points from senior guard Casper Ware, the ‘Niners stunned Pitt, 86-76 in front a sold out crowd of 8,215 at the Petersen Events Center.
“Well it does when you’re a mid-major school,” LBSU head coach Dan Monson said when asked to describe how gratifying the victory was for the program in an interview with ESPN. “I appreciate [Pitt head coach] Jaime [Dixon] giving us an opportunity to come in here because he knew we were going to be a good team this year.
“It’s a tough hurdle to get your kids to believe that they can compete in these environments against a team like this, and it was very gratifying. I was proud of the way they responded to the runs and they just hung in there.”
The victory marked LBSU’s (2-0) first over a ranked team since defeating then-No. 25 New Mexico State on Feb 24, 1994.
“It’s a big win but we expected to win this,” Ware said in an interview with ESPN. “Everybody in the locker room knew we were going to win this game.”
The Beach took control of the game from the outset, and used two first-half runs to take a 45-36 lead at halftime. The Panthers (2-1) pulled to within six points twice during the course of the second half, but LBSU’s stifling 1-2-2 trap defense disrupted Pitt’s momentum as it forced 12 turnovers — five of which came on steals from junior forward James Ennis.
Ware shot 10 of 18 from the field, including 4 of 11 from the 3-point line. He also pitched in six assists. Meanwhile, Ennis had a stellar night on the offensive end as well, scoring an LBSU career-high 19 points —13 in the first half — on 6 of 10 from the field, including 2 of 5 from behind the arc. Ennis also converted 5 of 6 free throws and dished out six assists.
The ‘Niners used two big first half runs to take a 45-36 lead into halftime. James Ennis capped an 11-2 run with a corner three to put The Beach up 23-16 with just over 11 minutes to play in the half. A Ware three pointer triggered an 11-5 Beach run over the last three minutes.
Pitt guard Ashton GIbbs led the way for the Panthers with 20 points but missed 13 of his 21 shots. Pitt forward Nasir Robinson scored 15 first-half points, but was held to just four after the break.
Senior guard Larry Anderson chipped in 12 points on 4 of 6 from the field and added a game-high seven assists. Senior forward T.J. Robinson also finished the night in double figures, scoring 11 points and grabbing a game-high eight rebounds. Senior reserve Edis Dervisevic made the most of his 18 minutes as he scored eight points on 4 of 5 shooting.
The ‘Niners held the Panthers to 46.6 percent shooting (27 of 58) and 9-for-20 from long distance. The Beach also dominated in the paint as it outscored Pitt 48-31. The 49ers outpaced the Panthers as they held a 25-5 advantage in fastbreak points.
“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.”
Miami Heat forward LeBron James even expressed his appreciation for LBSU’s performance via Twitter: “Casper Ware a problem out there!! And he got players around him to help as well! Ennis, Robinson, Anderson, etc.”
Through the first eight minutes of the second half, it looked as if Pitt may be able to regain control of the game. A few turnovers, and a Eugene Phelps layup gave Long Beach a 62-50 lead with just under 12 minutes to play.
The Panthers answered right back with a 6-0 run of their own, capped by back-to-back 3’s from Travon Woodall and Gibbs.
Ware buried a 3 from the right wing with 5:38 remaining to put The Beach back up by 12, 73-61.
Two made free throws by Anderson put the 49ers up 80-72 with 2:04 remaining.
With 1:44 left, Woodall fouled out to send Ennis to the line. He then knocked down both free throws to put The Beach up, 82-74.
A Ware layup put the ‘Niners extended their lead to 84-76 with 43 seconds on the clock. The basket gave Ware his career-high of 28 points.
A Gibbs jumper brought the Panthers back within six with 1:16 remaining, however, he went on to miss three consecutive shots, including two 3’s that helped seal a ‘Niners upset.
The 49ers will return to action Saturday against San Diego State at 1:30 p.m. at Viejas Arena.