In the battle of conference unbeatens, familiar foes Long Beach State (8-10, 2-1) and UC Irvine (14-5, 3-0) met once again at the Walter Pyramid Thursday night, where the ‘Eaters prevailed 58-54.
This season’s first matchup of the Black and Blue rivalry began to a shaky start seeing both teams shoot less than 30 percent in the first half. It was truly a sloppy brand of basketball being played as both teams struggled to take care of the ball in the first half committing careless turnovers, Long Beach with eight and UCI with 11.
Early on, the ‘Eaters could not find their rhythm on the offensive end especially from deep, as they shot an abysmal 11 percent from beyond the arc. The 49ers also had a tough showing in the first period but they cashed in on four three point shots, three of those coming from senior guard Nick Faust (who ended the night with 19 points and 11 rebounds), to separate themselves against the ‘Eaters and gain a double digit advantage. LBSU’s ability to also outrebound the ‘Eaters in the zone , 22-18, led to their 29-21 lead at halftime.
The guard play of senior Alex Young and junior Jaron Martin is what fueled the ‘Eater comeback and third consecutive win in Big West play in front of a crowd of 3,713. Young, who was a non-factor in the first half being held scoreless, erupted in the second half on all ends of the floor notching seven points, eight assists, five rebounds, and five steals. Martin, who also did not score a bucket in the first period, scored all 11 of his points in the second half as his three point shooting and ability to score on the fastbreak helped bolster a 12-1 run to tie what was an 11 point deficit to a 49-49 standoff with 13:46 left in the game.
It was the ‘Eaters defense that saw them edge the 49ers as Long Beach was held to only six field goals in the second half. The 49er outside shot was completely erased as they shot 14 percent from three in the second half. The ‘Eaters were able to outlast the 49ers on the road and squeeze out the narrow victory to remain atop the Big West standings.
The ‘Eaters will end their two game road trip with a game against UC Santa Barbara on Saturday at 4:00 p.m. UCI will return to play at home on Jan. 20 to host Cal State Fullerton.