PORTLAND — The Cinderella story for the 12th seeded Long Beach State men’s basketball team was never able to get started as it lost its second round game to fifth seeded New Mexico 75-68 Thursday afternoon at the Rose Garden.
The loss marks the last game that seniors Casper Ware, Eugene Phelps, T.J. Robinson and Larry Anderson will play as Long Beach State 49ers.
‘Niners head coach Dan Monson said that the loss would feel the same even if he didn’t have four seniors leaving the program.
“You have the one emotion that 67 other teams in the tournament will have, you just hate to lose,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you have seniors, it’s disappointing when you feel your team could go deeper than this [in the tournament].”
Monson added: “I feel good about saying goodbye to them here in the NCAA tournament. I don’t know where this program is going, but now there’s a foundation.”
Monson felt that New Mexico was able to make more plays down the stretch that helped them defeat the ‘Niners.
“I thought it was a hard-played, good college basketball game,” he said. “They made more plays, more free throws and did the little things down the stretch a little bit better than we did.”
He added: “In the gut [of the game] they hit back-to-back three’s and got back-to-back offensive rebounds.”
“They [New Mexico] executed their plays well,” Robinson said. “They rebounded and made their free throws. They executed to perfection.
The 49ers were able to put together a 12-5 run capped by a dunk from junior wing James Ennis to give LBSU a 61-59 lead with 5:03 to play.
Ennis said that he felt the ‘Niners had a good chance to win when they took the lead.
“I thought we had a good chance to win the game after that,” he said. “They just beat us at the end. Free throws caught up with us and we didn’t get it done.
New Mexico answered back as they closed out the victory with a 16-7 run of its own, connecting on 9 of 10 free throws in the final 3:35.
After jumping out to a 7-2 early lead behind two 3-pointers from Ware, the ‘Niners surrendered the lead and were forced to play from behind for most of the game.
Monson said that exerting so much energy on a comeback had a major effect on the outcome of the game.
“When you play from ahead it’s totally different, you can get guys blows and you can play a little different,” he said. “It was so much energy playing from behind that we couldn’t make the plays we needed to at the end.”
LBSU was led by Robinson who scored 12 points on 6 of 15 shooting. The senior also pulled down a game-high 14 rebounds. Ennis finished with 13 points on 6 of 10 shooting. He also pulled down 7 boards and dished out 5 assists.
Freshman guard Mike Caffey pitched in 11 points on 5 of 6 shooting in 25 minutes of action.
New Mexico’s defense was able to force Ware into taking tough shots throughout the game. Ware ended up scoring a team-high 17 points, but connected on just 5 of 19 from the field.
“I got to the hole when I wanted to, it was just about converting and making the right play after I got past that first defender,” Ware said. “We just didn’t finish today.”
LBSU shot just 43.1 percent (28 of 65) from the field as a team, and just 25 percent (4 of 16) from 3-point range.
Anderson was able to start the game, but the injury to his knee looked to be bothering him throughout the contest.
“When I started it was a little tough,” he said. “Once I got going it wasn’t that bad. In the beginning of the game there weren’t a lot of fast breaks, so it got a little tight.”
Monson said he started the game in a zone defense to try and ease Anderson back into the swing of things.
“I wanted to start zone a little bit on makes or when we could get into it so Larry wouldn’t have to chase guys around with that leg,” he said. “Just let him get some confidence and be comfortable.”
The ‘Niners fell victim to the Lobos dynamic duo of senior forward Drew Gordon and sophomore guard Kendall Williams.
Gordon paced the Lobos scoring 18 points on 7 of 10 shooting while pulling down 13 rebounds. Williams finished with 16 points on 6 of 11 shooting, including 2 of 5 from behind the arc. Williams also dished out a team-high five assists.
Freshman guard Hugh Greenwood scored 12 points on 3 of 6 shooting, including 2 of 5 from 3-point range and 4 of 4 from the charity stripe.
The ‘Niners committed 12 first half turnovers and connected on just one of their five free throws and trailed New Mexico 33-29 at the break.
The Lobos used a 10-3 run over the last four minutes of the half, propelling them to a four-point halftime advantage.
Robinson led the 49ers with eight points on 4 of 8 shooting, while Ware scored seven points on 2 of 5 shooting, including 2 of 4 from 3-point range. Ware also dished out four assists in the opening period.
Drew Gordon had six points on 3 of 3 shooting for the Lobos. Walker scored nine points on 2 of 4 shooting including 4 of 4 from the free throw line. Williams pitched in six points on 3 of 7 shooting.
“When you’re season ends, the biggest thing is you want it to be that you just got beat, not that you didn’t play well enough,” Monson said. “I feel that we can end this season feeling pretty good and have our heads held high.”