There will be no return trip to the ‘big dance’ for the Long Beach State 49ers as they were eliminated Friday night by the UC Irvine Anteaters 67-60 in the Big West Tournament semifinals.
While chances at an at-large bid to the NCAA’s is slim, the Beach (19-13) will most likely be invited to the NIT based on its winning the regular season league crown for the third consecutive season.
Big West player of the year James Ennis fouled out of the game with Long Beach trailing 59-55 with 1:08 to play in the game.
“I got on myself a little bit, because I let my teammates down,” he said. “I’m a senior; I’m supposed to help my teammates a lot in this game. I felt like I didn’t do my job.”
Long Beach head coach Dan Monson had nothing but praise for his senior saying that it was because of Ennis that the Beach is where they are this year.
We’re here because of him. We won the league because of him. He’s the most valuable player of this league. That’s what a true competitor does. You win as a team, you lose as a team, and this is his team. He wanted it so bad today, he got into foul trouble. That’s the only thing he did wrong and if that’s the only thing wrong, we could live with that.”
Long Beach State started out slowly, going scoreless for four minutes before a Kaeala King layup finally put the Beach on the board. They then went on an 8-0 run to briefly retake the lead 8-5.
King, along with Tony Freeland each tallied 15 points in the losing effort while Mike Caffey added 14 points and nine rebounds. Ennis chipped in 11 points, which marked the 37th time this year he scored in double figures.
Tied 18-18 Irvine went on an 8-2 run to take 26-20 lead with about three minutes to go before halftime. The Beach, however, would not go away, answering with a 8-0 run of its own to take a 28-26 lead. Travis Souza then put Irvine back on top 29-28 heading into halftime.
Caffey drilled a 3-pointer with less than half a minute to play trailing 63-57 to close the gap to 63-60, but that would be as close as the Beach could get as Irvine would hold on for the victory and a date in the Big West Finals against the Pacific Tigers.
Senior Peter Papageorge was on last year’s team, along with Ennis and Caffey said that it is a disappointment to not make it to the NCAA’s this year since it was the team’s motivating factor.
“We tasted it last year, we knew how good it was. That was our motivation the whole year,” he said. We expect to win the conference, and really wanted to win this tournament and get on a roll. We’re just going to have to show up and treat the NIT as if it were the NCAA tournament and show some class and represent this university.“
Long Beach State will travel to Waco, TX to take on the Baylor Bears in the first round of the NIT Wednesday evening. Tip off is at 6pm